No alarms rang at the La Grande Rural Fire Department Monday afternoon, but the sound of young people who may someday respond to emergency calls could be heard everywhere.
The fire hall was filled with 37 high school students who were learning the fine points of conducting emergency rescues from members of Union County Search and Rescue and the La Grande Rural Fire Department.
The youths are attending the annual Medquest Camp put on by the Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center.
The high school students, who stay at Eastern Oregon University during the camp, attend and participate in programs put on by first responders and health care givers, complete job shadows with health professionals, participate in panel discussions and local recreational activities, and meet like-minded students from all over the state.
At the La Grande Rural Fire Department, students participated in exercises that introduced them to the art of using the Jaws of Life, securing and carrying someone in a litter rescue basket, communicating via radio and more.
Union County Search and Rescue and the La Grande Rural Fire Department have been teaming up for several years to put on a program for Medquest. Nick Vora, a lieutenant with Union County Search and Rescue and the La Grande Rural Fire Department, said they enjoy their interactions with the students.
“It is fun working with kids and exposing them to what we do,” Vora said. “They are the next generation who will be filling our ranks.”
JB Brock, also a lieutenant with the La Grande Rural Fire Department, encouraged the Medquest students to volunteer with the SAR. Brock noted that Union County SAR does not actively recruit new members even though it always needs more people. He explained that they have found that recruited volunteers often do not stay for long.
Individuals who ask to join, though, are more likely to be long-term volunteers because they are more committed.
“That is the litmus test,” Brock said of taking the initiative to join.
Brock, who is employed as Union County’s emergency manager, said volunteering to help in emergency situations is not only a good way to help your community but also can help a young person move ahead in life.
“(The experience) looks great on a resume,” Brock told students at the Medquest Camp, which runs through Friday.
Brock was one of three people who led Jaws of Life exercises on Monday. Jaws of Life are powerful hydraulic cutting and spreading tools often used to tear through metal to free people from motor vehicles.
No metal was cut by Medquest campers Monday — instead they used them for the sensitive tasks of moving eggs and Styrofoam cups and pulling boards out of a lattice structure without causing it to collapse.
“We wanted to show them that although (the Jaws of Life) are very powerful and can crush metal, they also can be controlled to perform very delicate tasks,” Vora said.
Volunteers conducting the radio exercise split students into two groups. One went into the fire station’s headquarters and another went into a room above it. The groups then communicated with each other, with the goal of relaying information as clearly as possible. Vora said being able to do this is critical in search and rescue operations when communicating driving directions, one’s location and medical condition. Vora said this drill helped students learn how important it is to include pieces of information that seem obvious to them but is not to the individual they are talking to via radio.
At the rescue litter station, Medquest campers were told of how physically taxing it is for a group to carry someone for even a mile. This why a wheel is often attached under a litter to make the transport process less difficult. A rescue litter is a basket-like carrying device that is used to transport subjects.
A point of emphasis made by search and rescue members was that when using the radio to communicate, first responders should refer to the person they are transporting as a “subject,” and not a “victim” or a “patient.” Doing the latter may alarm the individual being moved and could cause great concern to friends and family listening to radio transmissions, Vora said.
Programs Medquest campers were involved during the week include one put on by the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing at EOU. Katrina Dielman, an assistant professor at the school of nursing, talked to students about the importance of teamwork and communication in health care. She said that regardless of how brilliant the health care provider is, if the individual is not communicating well, it actually can hurt the process of delivering health care.
Liz Wolotira, a clinical instructor at OHSU School of Nursing at EOU, taught students the art of making injections. She said giving injections is one of the most dangerous things nurses do because they can accidentally stab themselves with a dirty needle, putting themselves in danger of contracting a blood-borne disease.
“Always assume that everyone has an infectious disease,” Wolotira said.
She noted that nurses are now allowed to use sharp needles only when giving injections. Blunt needles are used for all other steps of the injection process, including pulling medicine into a syringe.
Almost all of those attending this year’s Medquest Camp are from Northeast or Southeast Oregon. The exceptions include Sara Schumann, who is from Salem and is interested in pursuing a career as an obstetrician or gynecologist. Schumann will be a junior this fall with Oregon Connections Academy.
Schumann will never forget how she felt when her camp application was accepted.
“I was really proud and I was so excited,” Schumann said.
Her parents were also more than a bit happy.
“They were over the moon excited,” Schumann said.