Northern Maine Community College offers emergency medical services students the opportunity to learn procedures in EMS simulation labs that faculty can direct through the simulation control room. Pictured here Andrew Gagnon, EMS Department chairman, works with students Meg Gagnon and Halee Rusby, who graduated in 2018. Credit: Courtesy of NMCC

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Like in real-life, the student EMS team gets the 911 call. A car has fallen on a man in the auto body shop, severing his leg. And the clock starts ticking for these emergency medical responders. They must decide what to do to stabilize and save him.

For Northern Maine Community College emergency medical services students, just such scenarios happen regularly as part of their training, and when they make the wrong clinical decisions, the simulator patient deteriorates quickly. Bleeding can be profuse, pulses can get weak and thready, skin color turns blue.

The thing is, if the patient dies, the students can try to save him again.

A recent $1 million grant from The Rodney & Mary Barton Smith Foundation will allow the EMS student simulation experience to expand beyond what they have been doing since 2018 — sharing space with nursing students — making the new facility the most comprehensive EMS simulation lab in Maine.

“It is the best in New England,” EMS Department Chairman Andrew Gagnon said. “Few have simulation for EMS specifically to this extent and the true value for rural settings is the ability to practice high-risk, low-volume skills. What they get to practice, they might not see for three or four years in the field.”

Currently in the design phase, NMMC will renovate the old sheet metal lab at the college for the new 5,000-square-foot facility, and it should be operational by Thanksgiving.

“Right now people are leaving the state to get these kinds of experiences,” Academic Dean Angela Buck said. “But this may be a way to attract people to stay in the state when they see the level of training we offer.”

In the auto body shop simulation, faculty worked with the auto body students to simulate a crush injury by placing a car on the mannequin, Hal. He was bleeding and his pulse, heart rate and respirations were set to match what might be happening to an individual with just such an injury.

Northern Maine Community College offers emergency medical services students the opportunity to learn procedures in simulation labs. Here, EMS Department Head Andrew Gagnon (right), works with the high fidelity infant mannequin with Michael Shephard, Operations Manager, Hannaford Simulation Center and Eileen McDougal,  NMCC Nursing Department Department Chairwoman.  Credit: Courtesy of NMCC

Gagnon said by putting the simulations in such real settings, it takes training to a new level.

“This is the best case scenario,” Gagnon said. “They are able to be in a scary, intense situation that seems very real, but very safe.”

After the initial assessment on the scene, students can practice what it’s like to transport a patient to a hospital or trauma center in the college’s training ambulance to allow for safe and seamless transitions for patients.

“We drive the ambulance around the campus while they are giving care,” Buck said, explaining that it takes practice to listen for a pulse and provide other care when the vehicle is moving.

Currently, the EMS students share the nursing student simulation lab that is set up like a hospital room. But with this fall’s expansion, there will be a loft area so students can experience assisting patients with stairs in the home; a kitchen and bath; and other real-life settings, to give them experiences in many trauma situations.

And they will nearly double the high fidelity mannequins they currently have to include two Trauma Hals, two Suzies (adult female), one Tory (an infant) and two pediatric Hals (a 5-year-old).

They are building a dedicated ambulance bay so students can take an injured mannequin, who actually talks with the help of the faculty member positioned in the simulation control room, from the mock kitchen to the ambulance, treat it in the ambulance and transport it into the mock emergency room.

For the past two years, NMCC EMS faculty have been taking the ambulance on the road and teaching at Washington County Community College in Calais. They pack up the ambulance with the mannequin and drive it to the students, Gagnon said.

Additionally, The County Critical Care Transport Team uses the lab to practice rare procedures like surgical airways where they would have to cut into the neck. And once the lab expands, the team’s lead physician Peter Goth hopes to use the lab twice a month for paramedic training, Buck said.

“The simulation equipment at NMCC meets and exceeds some of the best in the country,” said Goth, who also serves as a medical adviser for the program and specializes in critical care training and transport medicine. “It is the quality of training that is offered in other areas of New England, but will now be available in Aroostook County.”

As the EMS training simulation lab continues to grow at the college, Buck said it is her goal to provide a birthing center because all emergency personnel need that experience.

“I would say our students feel more comfortable and ready to go into the workforce because they get to practice in a safe setting,” Gagnon said. “They can learn from their mistakes and we can always reset the simulator. And when they are faced with a situation in the field, they can say, ’I know from simulation the steps I need to take.’”

NMCC offers several EMT training programs: Basic EMT for one semester; advanced EMT for 2.5 semesters; and an Associates Degree in Emergency Medicine and with licensure upon graduation.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...