Rescue workers upset over test

Published 3:31 pm Friday, December 10, 2010

A handful of first responders began taking remediation courses this week after 35 of the 41 county emergency workers failed a scope of practices test created by Polk County Medical Director Dr. Alison Owens.

This is annual testing weve done since I became medical director 11 years ago, Owens said. We use it as a means of identifying the weakness and strengths of our first responders across the county.

Owens said the test was, however, altered this year.

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She said the aim was to dig deeper in a responders skill set to ensure they could carry out their jobs to the fullest extent.

It gives a much more clear picture of a first responders ability to appropriately evaluate and treat a patient, she said.

She said the test required responders to act quickly in mock situations in which they had to assess a patient to determine their injuries or illnesses and then take the appropriate steps to treat them. Owens said prior tests actually provided those seeking certification with a scenario before they entered the test room. She said this gave the responders advance knowledge, allowing them to simply demonstrate their ability to use equipment, not their ability to make accurate judgments in an emergency situation.

Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis said the failure rate concerns him.

From his roster of 30 volunteers, only one responder other than himself passed the exam.

Until these volunteers pass the test, they do not have privileges to administer certain medications. Those drugs restricted from the responders usage include Albuterol for asthma, EpiPens used for those suffering from severe allergic reactions and Nitroglycerin, commonly used for heart attacks.

If you decrease what they can do, you are essentially telling them to do nothing but load up a person and take them to the hospital, Davis said. For (volunteers) in some of our areas that is a big issue because they are the primary backup for Polk County.

Davis said this becomes dangerous in areas with high call volume or longer response times from ambulances. The two departments that handle the main bulk of calls are Columbus and Tryon because of the population and the assisted living facilities in the area, Davis said.

Tryon ran 450 medical calls this year, while Columbus has run close to double that this year, he said.

Where you could potentially see the biggest issue is in Sunny View where they have a 20-minute response time but there is a first responder there, Davis said.

Davis and the other responder in Tryon who passed the test must now attend only a two-hour refresher course already mandated by the state. His other 29 men and women must take the remedial classes before retaking the scope certification test.

Polk County Rescue Squad Captain Robbie Price said attending these classes presents scheduling problems for many of his staff.

Only two responders from the rescue squad passed the test. When asked whether he passed the test, Price said, I didnt, no, and Ive been doing this for 30 years.

He said he and other volunteers cant wrap their brains around why the test was changed. He said they feel the material was never accurately covered.

Its the way they handled it the practical scope test they gave us, it just never was covered and came as kind of a surprise thing for us, Price said.

Owens said no one should feel as if they are being punished. She said it is, however, important to constantly improve the standards to which first responders are held.

Training sessions are educational; they are based on review of clinical medical trauma and situations and pictures, Owens said. Training sessions arent at all geared toward simply trying to pass a test.

Price added that his volunteers regularly attend continuing education classes. He said had Owens presented the material in the same fashion it was to be presented in the test, and had they been more clear about the test parameters, there would be no issue.

He said his volunteers have minimal time to take additional classes. Price said all the volunteers have other full-time jobs.

Everybody has full-time jobs on top of what they volunteer to do for us, Price said. And that makes things difficult.

He said they already adhere to the state and countys requirement of 36 hours of continuing education each year. Now those who failed the test are being required to take an additional 16-hour class, retake the skills test and take their usual two-hour refresher course for carrying the EpiPens. That would mean a minimum of 54 hours of courses this year, Price said.

Owens said she feels the test was a reasonable measurement of a first responders ability in the field.

She said, in fact, that she was incredibly surprised to see so many fail the practical scope exam.

I was not cognizant of the fact that we had so much refreshing to do, Owens said.

Owens, however, feels the remediation process is going smoothly.

The first class went very well this weekend, she said. The seven people who attended it passed their evaluations Tuesday night with flying colors.

Four more courses are scheduled, with the entire remediation and certification process to be completed by mid-February.