Five Pocahontas County men – Herby Barlow, J. P. Duncan, Adam Irvine, Cody Hill and Seth Morgan – entered New River Community and Technical College’s paramedic program as EMTs and spent 18 months juggling coursework, families and full-time jobs. Evenings were devoted to studying, and their weekends were spent traveling the state to take part in various training opportunities. Their journey began August 2014, and as December 2015 came to a close, they entered the new year as paramedics.
When asked what led him to become a paramedic, Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief J. P. Duncan credited the community.
“I’ve been an EMT for five years,” he said, “and I wanted to help people and provide better services for the community. I really enjoy helping people, but I also wanted to do this to help better myself in my profession.”
According to Irvine, none of the paramedics-to-be were aware of what the program would entail, and because of this, did their best to prepare beforehand. Being an EMT and having an understanding of what that position entails helped, but whenever a paramedic was around, the men took advantage of the moment in order to pick their brains for advice.
Classes at New River CTC began August 14, 2014, and over the course of 10 months, the paramedics-in-training spent their weekends traveling between the New River CTC Lewisburg and Marlinton campuses.
While in the classroom, Duncan, Irvine and their classmates studied basic human anatomy and a number of paramedic skills – including cardiology and advanced airway management techniques. They were taught where to place an electrocardiogram’s [EKG] 12-lead system, how to recognize and interpret EKG strips, and how to administer life-saving cardiac medication.
Additionally, they learned how to perform a proper tracheal intubation and start intravenous [IV] therapy lines.
Beginning in June 2015 and continuing until December, the men traveled across the state to different hospitals and EMS agencies in order to complete nearly 750 hours of clinical time. Under the supervision of hospital staff and licensed paramedics, the men spent 450 hours in an ambulance and an additional 200-300 hours in emergency rooms, Intensive Care Units, Obstetrics and Gynecology departments, and operating rooms.
“It was like I was working two full-time jobs,” Irvine remarked. “We were running all over the state trying to get everything completed.”
The program concluded in December, and in January, the men received their official licensure.
However, being a paramedic isn’t just about administering care while in the back of an ambulance. A number of mental and physical challenges are faced, as well.
The stress of a day’s work – especially if things have not gone well – can take a toll on responders, and learning how to deal with and handle that stress is another important part of being a paramedic. Once a job is finished, paramedics gather for a stress debriefing, and in the case of a particularly stressful situation, counselors are brought in to help process what happened.
Paramedics often work in tight, cramped spaces with minimal room to move, and lifting – be it patients, stretchers or other objects – is a common practice. Therefore, back injuries are common in this field of work, and according to Irvine, eating well, staying in shape and practicing regular conditioning are key factors in working as a paramedic.
“When working a shift at Snowshoe, we spend what downtime we have working out,” Irvine explained. “I try to maintain a healthy diet, too.”
Despite the pressures of juggling class, clinical hours and their jobs, it was being away from their families that was one of the biggest challenges some of the men faced.
“There was a lot of homework to complete and studying to do outside of the classroom,” Duncan said. “We might have been home during the week, but there were a lot of times when I wasn’t able to be truly present. My evenings were constantly tied up with studying.”
Irvine and his wife, Sarah, welcomed their son just two weeks before the course began, and handling the pressures of being a new parent, going to school and working were tough. He was not alone in his struggle, though, as his fellow classmates experienced similar difficulties.
However, the men have said that the end result was well worth the struggle.
“Even with the hours I spent away from my family, I don’t regret doing it at all,” Duncan remarked. “I enjoy it, I enjoy helping people, and I really enjoy paying everything I learned forward.”
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org