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McHenry County College paramedic students get real-life practice during crash simulation

Paramedic students at McHenry County College used a chilly day in December to practice the skills they'll be using for the rest of their careers.

A simulation of a two-vehicle collision where two cars were totaled, injuring the people involved, took place Saturday in the college's parking lot.

The 21 paramedic students participating did everything they would be expected to do in a a real crash, from handling the dispatch to extricating the "patients" and treating them. The students then called in the report to their instructor, Brandy Weirich.

Weirich, who also is an emergency room nurse with Northwestern Medicine, said that although the students have had classroom clinical exposure, the simulation Saturday is the best way for them to learn.

"Their senses are engaged, we've got the lights, we've got real ambulances," she said. "They have to work together collaboratively as a team, and the motion, the adrenaline is high, just like it would be in a real scene. We can't simulate all of those aspects in a classroom like that."

Being in the elements creates a natural, very realistic situation for the students, as well, Weirich said.

"We manage the airway, their breathing, their circulation and, in trauma, we manage their bleeding control," Weirich said.

The "patients" in this case were emergency medical technician students at MCC, and Weirich's 14-year-old son, who comes to the simulation to help his mom every year.

"My objective for [the students] is to identify and manage the patient in a timely manner, and treat and identify the signs and symptoms of hemorrhage and shock and traumatic injury, and get them to the hospital with the best possible outcome," Weirich said.

All of the students in the class work with a fire department in McHenry County. These agencies, including Cary, Fox Lake and Woodstock, among others, also let them use their emergency vehicles to practice for the day.

The cars used in the accident were from Whitey's Towing in Crystal Lake.

"[The students have] done fantastic," Weirich said. "This has been a couple weeks in preparation, and they're doing great. They're identifying the life threats, and they're managing the patients, just like they've been trained to do."

Sarah Bos, a paramedic student from Woodstock, wants to eventually work for Flight for Life. She said it was nice being able to "put all the pieces together" during the simulation.

"[In the simulation, you're] actually understanding why things are getting done a certain way, and figuring out that puzzle for yourself is awesome," Bos said.

She said she hasn't dealt with a crash as severe as the simulation before, but she has heard about them from other class members. Being there herself was a different experience, Bos said.

During the simulation, she said, she just focused on the job that needed to be done and tried not to get wrapped up in thinking about the totaled cars and broken glass everywhere.

"The class members that I'm working with today are actually in my department, too, so we do a lot of training outside of this together, so I feel like our communication is really good," Bos said.

Brent Chubb, a McHenry County College student sponsored by the Fox Lake Fire Department, said "you never know" when a crash like the one in the simulation will happen.

"You always want to train for that worst thing," Chubb said. "Being calm and being able to do the job is so big."

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