Oktibbeha County’s volunteer fire departments are preparing a partnership with OCH Regional Medical Center and East Mississippi Community College to better train county firefighters to provide medical care.
Austin Check, training officer for the county’s fire departments, said the agreement, which was approved by the county board of supervisors and EMCC board earlier this week, will allow the departments to provide emergency medical technician (EMT) training for firefighters. Currently, firefighters receive emergency medical responder (EMR) training, which is a lower level of certification than EMT training.
EMCC offers an EMT course. However, Check said, it can be hard, in terms of time and finances, for people to take the classes. With the partnership with EMCC, he said, the county fire departments can provide the classes at no cost to the firefighters, on a more flexible schedule and without the firefighters having to travel to the Mayhew campus.
“What we approached the college about, and what was approved, is we’re going to affiliate with the college to provide it here in Oktibbeha County and pay the college $100 per head to accredit individuals,” he said. “Take someone who lives, especially, on the west side of the county — they can’t really get off their job at 5 p.m., get to the Mayhew campus and then get back home, especially if they have a family.
“It’s the same curriculum and the same standards,” he added. “EMCC sets the standards and we’ll rise to them.”
Paul Miller, EMCC’s vice president of administration and interim vice president for instruction, said the college has worked in similar partnerships in the past.
“We’re excited to sit down and look at ways to extend that training,” he said. “It can make their folks more productive by not having to leave the county while they’re on call. This is a way to add some convenience, as well as get them the training they need to provide the best first responder medical services they can.”
The classes’ details are still being worked out. Check said they may be held at OCH, if a class location can be secured at the hospital. The goal is to have the class start at the beginning of 2019 or in the spring, he said.
Michael Hunt, director of medical services, said the hospital will provide the classes’ instructors.
“OCH is going to be somewhat of a sponsor of the program,” Hunt said. “We’ll use our paramedic instructors that work at the hospital, including physicians, to teach the class. So we’ll have nurses, doctors and paramedics teaching.
“We’re excited about it,” he added. “Right now, trying to get it all organized is the main thing.”
Chris Kelly, who oversees the Emergency Medical Services program at EMCC, said the college will provide the curriculum for the classes and make sure the hospital’s instructors meet requirements. He said the EMT course is typically a semester long, and plans are for the classes the county firefighters take to adhere to that schedule.
“When you finish the course, then you’re eligible to sit for the national registry EMT exam,” Kelly said. “When you pass that, then you become a nationally-registered EMT.”
EMTs also have more job opportunities available, Kelly added. Many of the Golden Triangle’s industries have EMTs staffed for plant safety or medical care. He added the training can also be a first step toward paramedic certification.
Check said the firefighters will also use their own equipment in the class, rather than learning on equipment from an EMCC class and then having to re-learn on county equipment.
“What it gives us now is, one, we’ve raised the level of care,” Check said. “Two, they’re coming out of class already familiar with the way Oktibbeha County provides care and trained on the equipment that we use.”
The training should, on the whole, help Oktibbeha County’s fire departments provide better service on calls, Check said.
“Medical calls are 80 percent of our call volume,” Check said. “Especially with an aging population, with your Baby Boomers getting older, that’s going to increase. Being able to provide better service is part of our goal. When we can make these partnerships, we’re going to do so.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.