WILLIAMSTOWN -- The emergency medical technician course offered this fall by Village Ambulance will incorporate the National EMS Education Standards, adopted last year in Massachusetts. The course will be held at the Berkshire Mall, which for the last few years has provided space for the service's ongoing training programs.
Shawn Godfrey, general manager of Village Ambulance, expects around 16 people to sign up for the program, which will begin Thursday, Sept. 5. Those are fewer than typically attend the spring program, he said, but more than attend most other EMT programs in Berkshire County.
Village Ambulance recently became accredited to offer EMT training, the second of four certification levels under the new standards, which were released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009. The other certification levels (revised from the previous model) are for emergency medical responder (level 1), advanced EMT (level 3), and paramedic (level 4).
"Generally speaking, the [new] standard is geared more toward an educational perspective than a training perspective," Godfrey said. "So in other words, there is a lot more thinking involved now, in terms of the curriculum."
Each level builds on the previous level, in a process that culminates in paramedic certification.
Village Ambulance currently does not teach the paramedics course. It has applied to teach the advanced EMT course, which under the new model replaces the previous EMT intermediate course curriculums, which Village Ambulance began teaching in 2007. The service also has taught a course for emergency first responders, now called "emergency medical responders."
The earliest EMT classes offered by Village Ambulance were held on the Williams College campus. (Williams also donated the current ambulance facility on Water Street during its bicentennial celebration in 1993.) Godfrey said hose classes were geared more toward the college population, with a six-week accelerated program to match the academic schedule.
One advantage of holding the classes at the mall, he said, is that it makes the courses more accessible to the general public. The new EMT training program, running just under four months, would not be able to fit into the college's schedule.
Students will still attend the program if it fits their schedule, he said, "but you're not getting 30 students anymore like you used to."
Village Ambulance offers a variety of training and outreach programs throughout the year, including CPR training and food drives. The current ambulance facility is too small to meet the standards for teaching classes, Godfrey said, so holding the classes at the mall has been an excellent oportunity.
"We have about 10,000 square feet of space to work in," he said. "It's pretty amazing what they give us."
Bill Mahoney, the mall's operations manager, who is also a longtime Village Ambulance employee, had originally proposed the idea as a way to increase foot traffic at the mall.
But the goal is for the service to eventually be able to offer all of the training programs at its own facility, which is currently impossible due to the lack of space.
Godfrey recently joined Williamstown's Public Safety Building Study Committee, which has identified at least one possibility for how Village Ambulance could acquire more space: If the Fire Department relocates to a new facility, as expected, the service could potentially expand into the old fire station, which occupies the same parcel of land as the ambulance building.
Godfrey said taking over a separate building would present some challenges - including essentially a doubling of overhead costs - but that it would still be a major improvement. The fire station would be converted to ambulance bays and possibly living space, and the ambulance facility would become a training center.
"It would be a conference room, a training center - obviously there would have to be some structural changes and construction, but that's what we would do," Godfrey said.
The major benefit of having onsite training, he said, is that it would provide closer proximity to the equipment that EMTs work with as part of their training. It would also allow employees to engage more easily in continuing education, which Godfrey believes is the key to a successful ambulance business.
"I stress that - being an educator myself - what really makes an ambulance service cream-of-the-crop is its ability to be able to continually educate the employees for better patient care," he said. "It's a no-brainer."
He envisions Village Ambulance eventually having a training director who will lead outreach efforts and also provide regular training for employees. "Not that you can't do that in this space, but it's hard to pull out some of the bigger equipment and put it in the middle of the common area," he said. "It diminishes it. I don't think you get the same education."
Godfrey's students often end up working for Village Ambulance as EMTs after taking the National Registry Exam and becoming certified. He said one of the intentions in first offering the trainings was that they would provide a local recruitment pool from which the service could hand-select its employees.
"It's been awesome for that," he said. "I think it's definitely amped up our level of care, being able to actually train the people ourselves."
Another advantage is that students who complete the program and come to work at Village Ambulance may end up teaching the EMT courses later on. "So they always stay on top of the skills," he said.
He added that EMTs need to become recertified every two years, and to obtain continuing education credits. EMTs and paramedics now must also complete programs to transition to the new standards. For basic EMTs and paramedics, that could be done in several weeks, but the intermediate-to-advanced transition may require up to 100 hours of class time.
Godfrey recently finished drafting the syllabus for each of the transition courses, which he expects will begin at the mall later this year.
For more information about the upcoming EMT training and other programs offered by Village Ambulance, visit villageambulance.com or call 413-458-4889.