EMT Career – Interview with Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh is a firefighter who is also a trained Emergency Medical Technician – EMT. He work has worked for the Malden, MA fire department for six years.

How does being an EMT help you in your work as a firefighter?

The majority of our calls are medicals and since we are usually the first on the scene before ambulance and police, it helps knowing life support techniques.

In our city, we do not run our own ambulance. So, depending on how many calls we receive at once there have been times where we have to wait for Cataldo (the ambulance service) to get to the scene.

If it’s a life threatening, call such as a unresponsive patient, we must start resuscitation steps – which is when my Emergency Medical Technician training is necessary and used. Even though every firefighter is required to be certified in CPR and the use of defibrillation, walking into that type of situation with more training can make the situation go a lot smoother because everyone knows their role – and I more comfortable knowing that I have the experience to offer life saving techniques as soon as possible. The quicker you apply these techniques the greater the chance of survival.

What type of training is required to get an EMT job, and how long is the program?

I took a 12-week course through Cataldo in Chelsea, MA. The class was from 6-10 Tuesdays and Thursdays along with 4 Saturdays from 8-5. To become an EMT you must have about 144 hours of training, both practical (hands on) and written. The class went into great depth about the human body and recognizing signs and symptoms of patients by asking question and taking vital signs. At the end of the training, we were required to take two exams issued by the state of Massachusetts, one being the practical which included CPR with Defibrillation, Assessment of a Medical Patient (i.e. patient with trouble breathing), Assessment of a Trauma Patient (i.e. Unresponsive Patient), Splinting for all type of broken bones and Back boarding and spinal cord protection/care.

Once you passed those, you are required to take a written exam and must get a 70% or better to pass. We are required to keep up with training and refreshers on EMT every 2 years. We must log a certain amount of hours in hands-on training in those two years and take a 24 hour refresher course. In Malden our department usually offers this course to the EMTs and whenever we have training most of the evolutions are about one hour of our hands-on training.

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What types of care does an EMT provide to injured people?

Depending on the injury we provide life support until the patient is taken to a person of higher training, i.e. paramedic, nurse or doctor. For broken bones, we can splint the injury so the bone doesn’t do more damage to the body, which keeps it stationary until they reach the hospital. Unresponsive people are provided usually with CPR and, if necessary, defibrillation. If a person has trouble breathing we can provide them with oxygen. We can also assist with some interventions such as Epi-pen for allergic reactions if it belongs to the patient, nitro for heart patients, again if it’s prescribed to them. For a person who is bleeding we do as much as we can to stop the bleeding and bandage them until they reach the hospital.

What type of training do firefighter recruits need to complete before they can start working?

Every community is different but in Malden we are required to be certified First Responders, which is a certification just under EMT which also requires training both written and hands-on. Also, CPR and defibrillation certification is required. We are also required to be Firefighter I/II which we go to an academy for 3 months. I personally went to Stow, MA for my training and it was from January to March, Monday thru Friday for eight hours a day.  Each day included role call, personal training, classroom and evolutions which we were taught, practiced and graded on.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding part of my job is helping people in my community with protection of life and property.

What is most challenging about your job?

What’s challenging is that every call is different and we always run upon something we may have never seen before. Because of this we must come up with a solution quickly.¬†That goes for every call including car accidents, medicals, fires and alarm activations.

What advice do you have for people who are considering an EMT career?

It’s a great job and can’t imagine doing anything else. If you are considering this line of work it helps to keep taking the test which is offered every 2 years, if you’re planning on working in a civil service community such as Malden. Some departments take resumes and some are volunteer.

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