- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

CENTER, N.D. (AP) — When a car crash or a heart attack occurs near this rural town, the emergency medical technicians who rush to help are familiar faces from the high school, the county clerk’s office and the coal mine.

The 17 members of the Center ambulance squad who serve nearly all of Oliver County are volunteers, much like most other EMTs in the state.

Like many of their counterparts across the country, members of the Center squad are worried that proposed national standards could more than double the amount of training they must have and thin their ranks.

“A lot of people can’t comprehend what it’s like to drive 345 miles and not see a house, not see anything, and to have to cover that,” said Mickie Eide, the squad’s leader. “If you keep requiring us to do more, there’s going to be less of us to do it.”

The revamped certification rules are being developed for federal regulators by doctors, EMTs and state emergency medical directors.

Supporters say more training requirements would ensure a better qualified national corps of emergency medical providers. But in rural areas where volunteer crews are the rule, many fear the change will limit the pool of new recruits and force experienced EMTs to drop out.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions that I have been involved in in [emergency medical service] in the last 20 years at the national level,” said Bob Brown, director of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians.

The goal is a national standard that would guarantee highly trained workers in ambulances across the nation, Mr. Brown said.

The proposed changes were designed to give EMTs the skills to treat conditions they commonly encounter, said Bob Bass, the Maryland state emergency medical director who sits on a national committee overseeing the reclassification efforts.

“They decided that an EMT could handle more than we currently handle,” he said.

For example, the new level of training would allow EMTs to administer such emergency medications as epinephrine, a form of adrenaline given to people suffering severe allergic reactions.

In North Dakota, basic-level EMTs need 110 hours of training to get their initial certification. To meet the new standards as proposed, basic EMTs would at least have to double that, the state Emergency Medical Service Association estimates.

In places like Center, a town of about 680 people, crew leaders think a change that steep could push about half their volunteers out of the service.

“It could even affect more,” said Ms. Eide, a teacher’s aide who leads Center’s ambulance crew. “We have squad members that are between 10 and 15 years anyway, and are kind of wanting to cut back.”

Many EMTs likely will find the new requirements too difficult to meet, said Dean Lampe, director of the North Dakota EMS Association.

“These guys have jobs. They work at the Cenex store, they work at the butcher shop. They’re farmers trying to get their crops in,” he said.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted through January, and the group drafting the rules is set to meet in March.

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