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Paramedic chiefs need to assign training that is current, relevant and accurate

This feature article is part of our Paramedic Chief Digital Edition, a regular supplement to that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing paramedic chiefs and EMS leaders everywhere. To read all of the articles included in the Spring 2016 issue, click here

By Robert Avsec

The citizens EMS providers care for every day have high expectations for the care they will receive when they call for help. Beginning with the television show "Emergency!" in the 1970s, and continuing to the present day with shows like "Chicago Fire," the public has been "informed and educated" about EMS in pop culture. (Perhaps not in all the ways we in EMS would like, but it’s happening nonetheless.)

Such an awesome responsibility can only be met by EMTs and paramedics who are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced in a wide variety of subject matter, including but not limited to:

  • Provision of emergency medical care.
  • Patient rescue from auto crashes, collapsed trenches and confined spaces.
  • Containment of and patient rescue from hazardous materials spills and releases.
  • Response to the consequences of natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms and floods.

The need for EMS agencies to provide required training and education isn’t only applicable to care providers. In today’s world, EMS paramedic chiefs are faced with ensuring that their personnel complete a wide variety of training requirements, such as:

  • Vehicle operations courses that cover defensive driving techniques and strategies, safe backing procedures, fatigue and stress management, severe weather and distracted driving.
  • OSHA-required workplace training — entry-level and annual or bi-annual refresher training — courses on avoiding slips, trips and falls; bloodborne pathogens, fire safety and extinguisher training, hazardous communication and safety data sheets; hearing conservation; office ergonomics; personal protective equipment; preventing back injuries; wellness and fitness; and workplace violence risk management.
  • Soft skills courses that help build stronger and more resilient organizations through training in interpersonal communications, stress management, written and oral communications and employee/supervisor relations.
  • Awareness courses that provide personnel with fundamental knowledge of various subject areas including workplace inspections, accident investigation, cultural diversity and discrimination, workplace harassment prevention and substance abuse [1].

Criteria for EMS training
To meet these challenges, EMTs and paramedics — and the supervisors who lead them — have a great need for quality training and education that is current, accessible and affordable. The body of knowledge expected of EMS providers continues to grow, yet for EMS agency leaders the challenge of providing the training that meets those three criteria is becoming increasingly difficult. Here is why:

1. Current
Many EMS agencies lack the resources to develop their own training programs to meet new threats. It is also challenging to keep the programs they have current regarding new information, technologies and methods.

2. Accessible
Many departments lack the resources to handle training in house and must depend on state or regional EMS training programs. At the same time, most state or regional agencies have seen significant reductions in their funding and their ability to deliver programs to meet the growing needs of local EMS agencies.

3. Affordable
All agencies across different types of EMS delivery models have seen their operating budgets reduced, or those budgets have not kept pace with the demands placed upon the organizations. Training programs are frequently the first target for budget cuts by an organization or its oversight or funding authority.

Online training and education
Online training is not new. Online training 1.0, such as Blackboard and other educational portals, provided dedicated email systems and electronic drop boxes for assignments and PowerPoint slide presentations, but such systems were primarily about inserting technology into the teacher/student relationship.

Today the huge technical advances in the content creation and development and delivery processes for online training have revolutionized the industry. Online training 2.0 brings the interactive experience of learning into the educational experience. Technology facilitates the student’s ability to interact with the material in ways heretofore unimaginable through the use of 3-D modeling, modular curriculum that requires students to demonstrate that they’ve learned before allowing them to proceed in the course and much more.

The rub (and there’s always a rub!)
Online training for EMTs and paramedics? It sounds impossible, or at best, a little shady. How is it possible for anyone to sufficiently train for such important hands-on jobs without working face-to-face? That's actually a little presumptuous, with the presumption being that a person taking an online EMT or paramedic course receives all of his or her training that way. That's simply not the case.

Preparing for any profession or occupation that by its very nature involves physical contact with something or someone else will invariably require both hands-on experience and, for lack of a more modern term, book learning. In fact, the non-hands-on part of EMT and paramedic education is rather extensive, and distance education is a very good delivery system for that component of the formal education process [2].

People are earning undergraduate and graduate degrees through online learning every year. Doctors are diagnosing diseases and treating patients and conducting the research to find cures for diseases every day using computers. Architects learn how to design buildings and engineers learn how to build them every day through online learning.

We should embrace this new capability to teach a person what he or she needs to know to be a safe, effective and efficient EMT, paramedic or instructor. Delivery and attendance of lectures online frees up our most precious teaching resource — the knowledgeable and experienced EMS instructor — for the critical task of teaching new and experienced EMS providers the skills that they need to do the job. Reserving our face-to-face instructor to student time for skills, scenarios and discussions instead of lectures enables us to use our diminished financial resources to pay for those instructors capable of conducting skills-development training.

A sampling of online training programs for EMS
Combining online coursework with in-class or in-the-field training is referred to as the hybrid format. Hybrid courses are a proven successful method of emergency medical training [3].

EMS1 Academy offers 240 hours of EMS continuing education to EMS agencies and fire departments. All of its Medic Monthly courses, as well as licensed courses from Jones & Bartlett Publishing Company, are approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Pre-Hospital Continuing Education for first responders, EMTs and paramedics and recognized by the National Registry of EMTs. Most states recognize CECBEMS-approved credit for state license renewal [4].

Individuals in need of credits or without an agency affiliation can also complete online CE courses. BoundTree University is one of many online CE options for EMS providers.

Students who successfully complete PERCOM’s EMT, AEMT or paramedic programs are eligible to sit for the National Registry of EMTs exams for registration. PERCOM’s training programs are recognized by most states in the United States for certification or reciprocity [5].

EMT & Fire Training Inc. is a proprietary school registered with the Idaho Board of Education. In addition, the school is recognized as a training institution by the Idaho Department of Emergency Medical Services. Their online EMT training course is a self-directed, interactive, distance-learning course that also prepares students to sit for the NREMT exam. Practical skills and testing take place during a six-day program of hands-on instruction at the company’s training facilities [6].

Online training is important for personnel in leadership and support functions as well as for first-line care providers. Creighton University offers online training courses in EMS management and EMS instruction [7].

What are you waiting for? This is just a sample of the online training programs available for EMTs, paramedics and EMS leaders. Get started on a career in EMS or advance your current EMS career through online learning.

1. PCI. Basic Safety Training Online Review. [Available online]

2. FireScienceOnline. Online Paramedic & EMT Programs. [Available online]

3. Ibid.

4. EMS1. FireEMS Academy. [Available online]

5. PERCOM On-line. EMS Education for the Modern Professional. [Available online]

6. EMT and Fire Training, Inc. EMT Certification Course Online. [Available online]

7. Creighton University. Training and Certifications. [Available online]

About the author
Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years beginning as a firefighter/EMT; he retired as an EMT-Cardiac Technician (ALS provider) certified by the Commonwealth of Virginia. During his career he was an active instructor, beginning as an EMT Instructor, who later became an instructor for fire, hazardous materials, and leadership courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years as a Contract Instructor with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va. Contact Robert at

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