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Editorial: Expanding 'first-responder' pool makes sense

Mar. 06, 2013 @ 10:05 PM

Since a shooting rampage killed 26 people in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., much attention has been devoted to finding ways to keep children safer in their schools. That, of course, is appropriate considering what happened in Newtown and at other schools and public places in recent years.

But what if a tragedy does strike, whether it's a shooting, an explosion, or even a tornado? How best to provide help to those who are injured? The answer put forth by Dr. Stephen L. Wilson, an associate professor of surgery at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, is a good one. Expand your pool of first responders by training school staff in first-aid techniques.

His reasoning is that you don't have to be a doctor or an emergency medical technician to significantly improve the odds that in some cases you can help an injured person -- a student or a work colleague, perhaps -- survive until trained first responders arrive.

Earlier this week, Wilson, Barboursville police, Cabell County EMTs and a physician associated with counseling and pastoral care at St. Mary's Medical Center went to Barboursville Middle School to demonstrate what Wilson describes. There, they trained teachers, office staff, cooks, custodians and other school employees in first responder techniques, using a protocol that Wilson and his team authored. It's called "Basic Life Saver Training for Educators," and it's focused on field triage in a mass casualty event like a school shooting. "With this ongoing wave of classroom violence, we wrote this to teach school teachers to be first responders as well," Wilson said. "This is designed for that interim of time when they have (no one else on the scene). ... This is minimal skill sets to avoid preventable deaths."

That idea -- avoiding preventable deaths -- is why a major component of the training involves how school staffs can control bleeding, which contributes to a majority of preventable deaths from gunshot wounds.

The training protocol devised by Wilson and his team is not new, getting its start about three years ago. But previously it had been directed at emergency responders such as police officers, medics and SWAT teams. The adaptation to a school setting was in process before the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, but it was in response to school shootings that had occurred earlier.

In addition to teaching school staff about providing medical aid, the training also provides information about how staff can aid police in an ongoing emergency situation.

Wilson hopes the training will be given to staffs at all Cabell County schools, as well as form a basis for similar training throughout West Virginia and perhaps become a model for the nation. There are costs involved for manuals and supplies, but finding the money to expand the training to reach more people may be a wise, life-saving investment. "Multiply this over the county, the state and all 50 states and you have millions of people prepared (to save lives)," Wilson said. "... It would give me a calming effect, as a parent, to know that we're doing every single thing we can."

Undoubtedly, many parents would agree.

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