Volunteer Ambulance Corps teaches life-saving basics

With more than a few members back to college, the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps is looking to strengthen its ranks, and is offering a course to let prospective members become emergency medical responders.

The 60-hour course is open to applicants as young as 14, and will take place Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7 to 10, as well as three Saturdays, Sept. 25 through Nov. 20. The Saturdays are Oct. 20, Nov. 3 and Nov. 17, from 9 to 4. All classes are at corps headquarters at 234 Danbury Road. The cost is $350, which will be refunded after one year of service. For information, call 203-834-6245.

The classes will be taught by Chris Sanders, a full-time firefighter and paramedic with the Ridgefield Fire Department and part-time paramedic with Norwalk Hospital, which provides paramedic coverage to Wilton. Mr. Sanders is a state-certified EMS instructor.

"He is an amazingly engaging instructor," said Susan Kellogg, executive director of the ambulance corps. "People won't be bored."

The course combines hands-on as well as classroom instruction, Mr. Sanders said, focusing on what a person needs to know "to be the first responder on a scene."

Those taking the course will learn how to assess a situation, take vital signs, and perform CPR. Medical issues such as cardiac and respiratory, strokes and seizures, allergic reactions and shock will be covered along with trauma and triage. Specific modules will focus on geriatric, pediatric and special-needs patients.

"It's a good class overall," he said, practical as well for members of CERT, volunteer firefighters and athletic coaches.

"It's a starting point," he said, "an entry level for state certification."

Ms. Kellogg agreed. "If you take this course and function with this knowledge for five years, you will save someone's life," she said. "It's never failed. I've never had anyone not save a life."

Ambulance drivers

The EMR course appeals to people who don't want to be a crew chief or take full responsibility for an emergency call, Ms. Kellogg said. Those who complete the course may go on to take the ambulance driver program.

"Our expectations for adults taking the EMR course is they will become our drivers and be capable of doing CPR, bringing equipment, and acting as an auxiliary to the primary responders," she said.

"It also opens the door for youngsters 14 and older who are not old enough to be an EMT (emergency medical technician)," she said. They can get a jump start and see when they turn 16 or 18 if they want to make this commitment in knowledge and responsibility."

Training to be an EMT requires a 180-hour course. (Training time for both the EMR and EMT has been lengthened since Connecticut upped its requirements to meet national standards, Mr. Sanders said.)

"To get EMTs for that huge commitment of time as a volunteer is becoming more difficult," Ms. Kellogg said.

The state requires the ambulance corps to have two EMTs or one EMT and one EMR on board for every call. "We always have a paramedic, one or two EMTs and an attendant or apprentice (which can be an EMR)," Ms. Kellogg said.

Swelling the ranks

The corps is offering the EMR course to try and increase its ranks. "That is our huge concern," she said. "We run a lot of basic life support calls," she added. The corps makes about 1,400 runs a year.

The corps has about 40 members; about 10 went off to college last month. Members must commit to work 24 hours a month in two 12-hour shifts or weekend shifts of six hours. To keep pace with the increasing amount of senior housing — Wilton Commons will open next year — Ms. Kellogg said that commitment will be expanded to 36 hours per month. Some volunteers, she said, work as much as 60 hours per month.

The corps is an independent agency that gives the town 18,000 free man-hours, Ms. Kellogg said.

It's where Mr. Sanders, who is sometimes stationed as a paramedic in Wilton, got his start. In the late 80s, he was a volunteer firefighter in Wilton and became an EMT in 1991. He joined Ridgefield 12 years ago.