By Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman, EMT-B
Project Co-Coordinator – Dominican Republic
We arrived in Manzanillo on a Tuesday. A mundane day full of mundane tasks: buy coffee, coffee pot, coffee mugs, internet plan, and screens to keep the mosquitoes out. And running water. And an inverter, for when the electricity turned off … daily from 10am – 7pm.
These were not the tasks we’d imagined included in an emergency medical system development program, but they were crucial all the same, and the conversation among us was always focused on the end of the week – when, after a months-long process of planning and fundraising, we could finally start to train local community members in basic emergency care and connect them to to Beacon, our text message dispatch system.
The training class took place at a former golf club built by a land developing American fruit company, under the palm tree-thatched roof of what once was the social club and restaurant. As the volunteers arrived, it was clear they were glad to be there – everyone smiling, full of energy, and eager to learn. No one needed to convince them of the need for better emergency care; they just wanted to learn what they needed to do to help.
2-Day Community Emergency Responder Training
The course began with introductions and briefings by local community leaders – like the students, Manzanillo’s town leadership was excited for the course, and even participated themselves. This was a good sign for us; it meant the leaders were willing to get their hands dirty in the program, and not just direct from a safe distance. Once the full group had assembled, we started with a pre-test – a few questions to gauge where we were. After that, the plan for the course was simple: keep it hands-on, teaching practical skills and using live simulations.
The first day was focused entirely on medical care for traumatic injuries, and we broke the class into three groups to rotate them through different skills stations: Aaron taught bleeding control, Matt taught splinting, Jason handled airway and breathing. Additional training was also provided in scene safety and patient handling and movement.
The class never lacked for engagement. All the students were actively learning and practicing skills, and asked a lot of really great questions. Most were able to speak from personal experience: Either they or someone close to them had been involved in a motor vehicle crash at some point. And it was helpful for us to hear their experiences and their understanding of emergency response as well. Some had their own ideas about how to treat injuries, and we discussed those and other alternatives in depth, learning just as much ourselves. It was a fully-engaged class, with everyone ready and willing to learn more.
Connecting Needs To Resources Through Text Messages
While on Saturday we taught them first aid, on Sunday we taught them how to be first responders. For the second day of classes the training was focused on learning how to use Beacon, the text message-based dispatch software at the crux of our whole emergency development program. By being registered with Beacon, the students could easily be dispatched to any emergency in their community through a simple text message that provide the patient’s location. It was built to be as simple as that, so we were pleased to see how quickly the students picked up the software, and how clear it was to them that emergency response could be improved in their community because of it. Everyone saw how Beacon could inform them of the location of an emergency – whenever one happened – and then coordinate their response so that the right resources were sent at the right time. Much like our previous Beacon training in Haiti, it took one demonstration most of the students to learn how to communicate with Beacon; and because we can run the software from any laptop computer, they were able to watch themselves using the system on the computer at the same time that they were sending text messages to it.
All in all, the training went as well as we could’ve have hoped. And to add to our encouragement, before the final day had even ended the students were asking when we could begin doing community-wide simulations so they could practice more.
“Whenever you’re ready!” was the answer we had, and the only one we wanted to give.
It’s so exciting to see how very close we are to flipping the switch on a full launch of this emergency response program.
Stay tuned for much, much more to come – and soon!
A special thanks to Cardinal Health Foundation for their generous $10,000 donation to Trek Medics’ program in the Dominican Republic.