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New York National Guard members train to become paramedics to address healthcare worker shortages

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For the first time ever, members of the New York National Guard are undergoing medical training at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, as they prepare to help ease healthcare personnel shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

During a training session, where members of the National Guard learn how to handle trauma cases, a soldier lies on the ground, pretending to be unconscious with several injuries, including a broken leg.

“We would put a splint on the whole leg and also the ankle, and you would do it quickly,” said an instructor.

In a large training hall, another group pumps fake blood into a fake limb to create a gaping bloody wound, simulating a gunshot wound to the leg or a deep puncture wound.

Staff Sgt. Terrance Locus is a volunteer from New York taking the crash course.

“You get a better picture when you do it yourself, and God forbid, you’re in the real world and it happens, and you don’t know what to do. So it’s perfect,” Locus said.

Members of the New York National Guard participate in EMS training at Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse

This training stems from a partnership between the State Department of Health and the National Guard announced by Governor Kathy Hochul late last year, to train soldiers to become certified paramedics for deployment in health facilities in need of staff due to the pandemic.

“Graduates will be able to help wherever we need them. Medical capacity will be available from the beginning of February,” Hochul said. “So that’s a very short window of time for us to add more people to our support army for any health care facilities and nursing homes that need extra help.”

600 National Guard members are participating in training like this across the state, bypassing the usual six-month course required to become a licensed emergency medical technician. Douglas Sandbrook, director of EMS education at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, said the training was changed, with half in a classroom setting, the other half more hands-on experience.

“We’re still providing the same content that we would for our other course, it’s just in a very condensed time frame,” Sandbrook said.

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Members of the New York National Guard participate in EMS training at Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse

spec. Casim Coleman of Buffalo admitted it was a lot to take.

“I learned a lot of life-saving tips to a greater degree and at a faster pace,” Coleman said. “It’s a six-month course and we’ll do it in four weeks. And if you buckle up and do it, it’s possible.”

Once certified, members will be state-certified emergency medical technicians capable of supporting EMS and fire operations. Col. Richard Goldenberg, spokesman for the New York National Guard, said beyond the crises created by the pandemic, trained people will still be needed.

“Whether it’s a Sandy Superstorm or another severe storm that requires an increase in first responder capabilities, EMT training is one of those essentials that can be used for a wide range of needs,” Goldenberg said.