In the lot of the Augusta Fire Department Training Center, paramedics watched how to properly secure the neck brace, put the man onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. When they successfully loaded the victim into a Georgia Regents University medical helicopter yards away, the group cheered as it took off.
The situation was fake, but it was meant to teach about 20 paramedics and firefighters visiting from South Korea how to be prepared for very real situations.
The GRU Department of Emergency Medicine has hosted the international group for about a month and trained them on pre-hospital trauma care, emergency response and clinical techniques.
They worked with Augusta firefighters Wednesday to learn about extracting a victim from a vehicle and how to work with a rescue helicopter. KT Baek, 38, an EMT and firefighter in South Korea, said the experience has been exciting.
“There are a lot of differences between there and here,” he said.
Baek said in South Korea there are only about six drugs paramedics can administer, versus the 30 allowed in the U.S. They also do not have electronic stretchers and have to haul victims on a basic, flat stretcher.
Helicopter rescue is also a new concept at home for Baek, so seeing it firsthand was “very helpful.”
Philip Coule, GRU vice chair and professor of emergency medicine, said his staff also had to explain cultural differences to the visitors.
In South Korea, many citizens don’t want drugs or medical care administered by anyone but a doctor. Coule explained that here, residents know that EMTs and paramedics can be life savers.
Coule said paramedic training is constantly evolving, and GRU is trying to meet the needs of a statewide shortage of paramedics along with new degree requirements.
Changes in the law now require paramedics to obtain a degree instead of a certificate, which led to some schools who couldn’t support the new requirement, like Augusta Technical College, to discontinue their certification programs.
GRU will launch a paramedic degree program in February, one of only a few of its kind in Georgia.
“There’s a huge need for this because there’s such a paramedic shortage,” Coule said. “That creates a problem with emergency response.”
Fire Chief Chris James said his department has about 10 paramedics, and firefighters receive incentives to get certified in the emergency medical fields.
He said having more certified personnel will only increase the safety of the community.
“When a person has a heart attack, there are some life saving procedures and life saving drugs that could be administered prior to a patient getting to a hospital,” James said. “Your basic EMTs can’t deliver those drugs, so it has to be a paramedic.”