5 Investigates: A Silent Crisis - The Price of Training

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:27 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - West Virginia’s EMS agencies are facing serious challenges, from a lack of funding to dwindling volunteerism.

There are a lot of issues, and easy answers don’t appear to be on the horizon.

One of those issues is the training first responders undergo and the costs associated with it.

For many of our first responders, this isn’t their day job, and when they’re not out on call, they’re often training, learning of new ways to keep people alive.

It’s something they love to do, but the cost is high in both money and in time.

The state of West Virginia requires 155 hours of training and 10 ride-alongs to become a base-level EMT. That is significantly higher than the national standard of only 120 hours.

On top of that, EMTs need to be recertified every couple of years with refresher training.

“Staying compliant is not an option. Otherwise, we lose our license to operate,” said Dennis Filler, President of the Tucker County Ambulance Authority.

Filler said they rely solely on paid EMTs. He said for their department, having volunteer EMTs just isn’t feasible anymore.

“Volunteerism is way down. In the traditional sense, “Johnny Come Running” doesn’t work because these professionals need to have their certifications up to date. They have to understand the protocols that are constantly changing from the state. We have to be able to provide the best care that we can,” Filler said.

Filler said on the bright side, because of this high-quality training, EMTs are able to do more than they used to a few years ago.

However, they’re still stretched thinner than ever. The entire county only has seven EMTs.

In much the same way, our firefighters are being held to a higher standard.

In a video of a recent training in Bruceton Mills, firefighters of all skill levels and experience got training on extracting patients from heavy machinery.

Volunteer Kyler Bishop said this training is extremely important because of the truck traffic on I-68 that goes by their station.

“This is a completely different monster and needs to be treated as such. This class has opened the eyes that we might’ve been in bad shape or we could’ve been putting people in really bad situations without this training,” said Bishop.

The company “Training To Perform Under Pressure” trains firefighters around the country in dozens of real-life scenarios they’ll see on the job.

“It’s both human performance, but it’s all preparing yourself so you feel confident and to be able to perform when you go out on that call, whether it be a car accident, a fire, a cardiac arrest, or even someone unconscious,” Rob Blasetti, Co-Owner of Training To Perform Under Pressure, said.

For the firefighters from the eight different states that day, the training wasn’t a hassle. It was an opportunity to learn skills that will help them save lives.

“We go into it with a calmer mind, calmer pace because at the end of the day, slow is steady, steady is smooth, smooth is fast. so if we can be steady, smooth, and clean in our actions, we’re doing good,” Bishop said.

But this level of specialization doesn’t come cheap. If not for a generous grant, this training may not have been possible.

The price tag was about $40,000. To put that in perspective, the Bruceton Brandonville Volunteer Fire Department only gets $40,000 a year from the Preston County Fire Levy.

Fire Chief Adam Hoffman was grateful to be able to host this crucial training.

“One of the benefits of a class like this is you have national instructors, excellent education, and firefighters all over the country coming in. You get to see the way other departments work and the way other folks think about things. Maybe its different, you learn a little something from everyone here, so it’s a great knowledge sharing event as well,” Hoffman said.

For these first responders, there’s always something else to learn. Many, like Chief Hoffman, volunteer as both firefighters and EMS.

“What really helps me is we’re talking about heavy vehicle extraction. My knowledge of patient care from an EMS side really helps to inform how we might approach an extrication or how sick or injured a patient may be, so they’re really two sides of the same coin,” Hoffman said.

Tucker County EMT Joseph Straight said although volunteering as a first responder has changed in many ways over the years, the core element of their duty hasn’t. That is you never know when an emergency will happen, so you must be prepared.

“If you can get a CPR class an AED class, please do because it works. The faster somebody gets CPR, AED, the more survivability it is,” Strait said.

That calling rang true for a Pennsylvania firefighter when he joined his local department just over a year ago.

Richard Show, of Markleysburg, was one of many first responders in attendance that day to learn about heavy vehicle extraction.

“I was thinking about if I was just sitting there watching tv one night and somebody was in a car crash, if it was my family a couple hundred yards down the road and I could respond, I wouldn’t even know about it, so I just felt convicted that I should be able to help my community,” Show said.

Below are the first two installments of A Silent Crisis:

5 News Investigates: A Silent Crisis Pt. 1

5 News Investigates: A Silent Crisis - Buckhannon Fire Department