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Fred Altamirano, PA-C, MPAS, with Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Services works with students in the Stevens County EMS EMT training course during a heart and lung lab two weeks ago.

Emergency training expands in Stevens County

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MORRIS, Minn. - One common refrain Bob Griffith hears after telling people that he works as an emergency medical technician is that they couldn't handle the "blood and gross stuff" when responding to emergencies. But Griffith disagrees.

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"If you get some training and have knowledge of what to do, anybody can do this," said Griffith, training coordinator for Stevens County EMS. "It's not that I love the sight of blood and guts, I don't, but with training, you can handle emergency situations. Don't think that you can't because you can."

Last year, Stevens County EMS trained over 1,700 people in the community, up about 30 percent from 2009, said Josh Fischer, operations director for Stevens County EMS. Fischer said the ambulance service expects to train more than 2,000 people in 2012.

Fischer credits community interest in learning about how to respond in an emergency and awareness of the role first responders can play for helping the ambulance service train more people each year.

"The fact that we've had the opportunity to educate more people speaks volumes about the vitally important commitment that many individuals have made to ensure that we are able to provide the best medical care we can - all the way from bystanders taking action, to first responders, to the ambulance service and through the emergency department," said Fischer.

The most recent EMT training session consists of 23 people from Morris and Ortonville, one of the largest cohorts in recent years. Over a 13 week period, the students will put in more than 130 hours of training time before taking their final tests to be certified as EMTs.

Two weeks ago, the class partnered with the Morris Area High School EMT class for a heart and lung lab, supervised by Tim Hovde, paramedic and DOT instructor, and Fred Altamirano, PA-C, MPAS, with Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Services.

Griffith, who re-joined Stevens County EMS in November as training coordinator after 12 years working at Westmor Industries, is responsible for overseeing classes like the EMT training course and hopes to help Stevens County EMS expand its training services in the business and industrial sectors.

Griffiths was first trained as an EMT in 1987 and was hired on to the ambulance service that spring. After working part-time with Stevens County EMS for about six years, Griffith was hired as the training coordinator. In April 1999, Griffith moved to Westmor Industries (then Kleespie Tank and Petroleum Equipment) as safety director.

When the training coordinator position with Stevens County EMS opened up again, Griffith said he debated for several months before deciding to return to the organization in November.

"Having the opportunity to bring Bob on to lead our education programs was something that was just too good to pass up," said Fisher. "His work experience in the manufacturing industry and specifically with respect to safety is a great asset to our community and the people we go out and speak to."

One of the big draws back to the position for Griffiths was the chance to use his EMT training on a more regular basis to treat patients.

As training coordinator, Griffith is in charge of setting up, organizing and running the classes that Stevens County EMS provides. Although he is certified as a DOT instructor, Griffith doesn't teach every class. In the last several months, the ambulance service has offered instructor classes to prepare staff to teach the EMT class or CPR classes in the community.

"It's not that I have to teach all the classes," said Griffith, "It's getting [instructors] the qualifications they need and monitoring them and making sure they're providing the curriculum that is required."

Because of Griffith's background working with environmental health and safety, Stevens County EMS is looking to expand its class offerings in the business and industrial sector as part of the organization's overall goals to improve public safety more generally.

Griffith said that the trainings he'll be able to provide - hazard communications, personal protective equipment, overhead hoists and others - could be particularly useful for businesses that can't afford a full time safety director but still need assistance with required trainings.

"One of the big components of the EMS system is public safety, prevention, going out and educating the public on how to be safe, that's the primary way of dealing with a hazard - trying to prevent it in the first place," said Griffith.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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