Emergency professionals sharpen their skills at TSJC EMS Symposium

ALAMOSA — It takes a certain skill set to quickly assess and address the injured at the scene of an accident or a medical emergency. A delay of only seconds can be the difference between life and death. To stay abreast of changes in medical emergency treatment, many of Colorado’s emergency medical personnel attended the annual EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Symposium. Teaming with SLV RETAC (Regional Emergency & Trauma Advisory Committee) Trinidad State hosts the symposium every February on the Valley Campus in Alamosa.    

“This is a great program,” said David Chavez, a ranger at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. “I come every year to work toward recertification. It’s really nice to meet other providers.” 

More than 30 topics were presented by 15 instructors. Participants earned many of their required continuing education units or credits (CEUs) during the three-day symposium. Topics included: understanding EKG print outs, working with autistic children, diabetics and asthmatics, electronics in EMS, team work with fire departments, new equipment and techniques and much more. These like-minded public servants share a special camaraderie as they return to the symposium year after year to learn and to share together.

For husband and wife team, Mark and Lisa Werts, medical emergency team-building skills began before their marriage when he was one of her EMS instructors. Now living in Holyoke, where Mark works with the police department, they come to this symposium every year to reunite with fellow EMTs, to learn and to teach. Both are volunteers for their local ambulance service. Mark will return to the Valley in June to teach a three-day tactical medical class at the college. Tactical medics work with law enforcement to provide medical care for SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams.

Bringing with him a host of new medical emergency devices and equipment, Fidel Garcia, a paramedic for over 30 years, comes from Grand Junction each year to teach multiple classes at the event. Lisa Werts said he will do whatever it takes to get the point across. He even created a dance to help students remember class material.  Garcia is a sought-after presenter who teaches throughout the United States.

Chris Mulberry, a Trinidad State EMS graduate, is working with the Platte Valley Ambulance Services in Brighton. He presents throughout the state and taught several classes at the symposium. 

A four-legged visitor named Rocky, a Golden Retriever, belonging to Deb and Gary Haverfield is a registered therapy dog. Golden Retrievers are known to be sensitive both mentally and physically. Rocky visits The Legacy (an assisted living facility) in Monte Vista weekly. The Haverfields plan to use him to help calm victims and reduce stress when they are first responders after traumatic events.

Trinidad State alumnus Angie Medina, who earned both EMS and nursing degrees at the college, has been teaching nursing there for eight years. She is the simulation coordinator for the Alamosa Campus. It is her job to program electronic mannequins as a teaching tool. The more advanced mannequins can be programmed with heart, lung and bowel sounds, can speak, and can mimic many medical conditions such as heart attacks, appendicitis, birth, strokes and much more. “I absolutely love working with simulation,” said Medina. “It’s a great safe learning environment where mistakes are made, and students learn what not to do in practice.” 

For the symposium she had two live-birth scenarios with two different mannequins.  One was an unconscious roll over victim with traumatic wounds to a leg and a foot.  The other was a young woman on meth. After her lecture, she invited participants to address the birth challenges as they delivered the babies. One paramedic told about the first baby she delivered in her career while riding in an ambulance. Minutes after the mother was loaded into the ambulance, the baby was born. There was no time to prepare and the EMT hurriedly cut the umbilical cord too close to the baby and was immediately sprayed with blood from head to toe. A lesson learned as Medina explained that the umbilical cord should be cut about six inches from the baby and then clamped off which also allows it to be used as an intravenous line if needed.

Each day during lunch one or two specialized high visibility EMT jackets, provided by SLV RETAC, were given away along with many other door prizes. When Eva Campbell’s name was drawn for a jacket, she jumped up from her chair and exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting 20 years for this!” An EMT from Trinidad, Campbell finally won her most coveted prize.    

A new tradition was established last year at the symposium in memory of Dusty Claunch, a well-liked Trinidad EMS graduate who was killed in an airplane crash while spraying crops in August 2016. Claunch was known to be generous, kind, compassionate, loyal and fun-loving. Each year the Dusty Crophopper Big Heart Award is given to an EMT who exemplifies those characteristics.

At noon on Saturday, Betsey Strawn was moved to tears as she humbly accepted the award from Deb Haverfield who recognized her for her many years of service.  Similar in personality to Claunch, Strawn has served as an EMT since 1977 when she followed in her dad’s footsteps. Her mom, Delma Dooley, who walked in and surprised Strawn for the presentation, explained what really happened. When Strawn was a senior in high school, she was grounded for bad behavior and was required to be with a parent at all times. Having no choice, she accompanied her dad to his EMT refresher class. She liked it so much she took the training. Her brother also became an EMT and her retired military husband was one too. Their daughter, Christine, who graduated from Trinidad State, is a paramedic for Flight for Life making three generations of emergency medical personnel in the family. Christine’s husband, Zachary Davis, another Trinidad State graduate who was raised in Alamosa, is a paramedic for Airlife out of Denver. Strawn fully expects their grandson, Thatcher, to follow in their footsteps making this an ever-expanding family affair.

In addition to Trinidad State and SLV RETAC, Flight for Life and North Star Ambulance also sponsored the event. Dean of Instruction (for health-related programs) LoriRae Hamilton, and Nursing Instructor Marty Dineen, organized the meals, even cooking some of them. Deb Haverfield has been coordinating this event for over 20 years. “EMS in this Valley wouldn’t be the same without Deb,” said Lisa Werts. 

To learn more about the EMS program, or CPR or First Aid certification call Haverfield at 719-589-7046. Or call the Learning Center at 719-589-7135 and be sure to ask for advising on the Valley Campus.

Caption: These four emergency responders are firemen from Villa Grove.  From left are George and David Frees, Bill Johnson and Kendal Adolph./Photo by Margaret Sanderson