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Shadia Walter-Seaton: Emergency Medical Technician

Shadia Walter-Seaton, a 34-year-old fire sergeant in the Jamaica Fire Brigade was one of the first recruits tapped for the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), a new unit created in 1996.

Started in western Jamaica, the EMS now exists in six 'sides', or units, currently located in the towns of Negril and Savana-la-Mar, Lucea, Ironshore, Falmouth and Linstead.

Senior Deputy Superintendent Morine Thompson, acting head of the Emergency Medical Services, points out that there is a plan to an EMS side in every parish in the long term.

Walter-Seaton joined the fire brigade in 1995. While there are many specialisations which are possible within the government department, she had her eyes set on the EMS.

She reflects, "They (the fire service) also had the medical section and I loved that. It was a two-in-one deal. I always liked challenging things."

Free, mobile service

Staffed by firefighters trained in emergency medical care, the EMS is a free, mobile medical service established within the fire service with the objective of delivering quality medical care for medical conditions, blunt trauma, motor vehicle accidents and obstetric and gynaecology emergencies including childbirth and miscarriage.

Before applying for EMS training, Walter-Seaton first had to be trained as a firefighter.

"One has to be a firefighter first and foremost. You also need at least one science subject for the EMS." For Walter-Seaton, training as a firefighter lasted from October until December 1995, entailing the studying of 17 subject areas along with foot drills.

Theory studied by the new recruits included the chemistry of combustion, first aid, use of breathing apparatus, building construction, use of hoses, ladders and ropes, and many other topics. Several months later, in 1996, EMS training started at the University of the West Indies involving two months of in-house and two weeks of clinical training at a hospital. The new recruits were then deployed to different stations across the island. Walter-Seaton was sent to Manchester where her family resided.

In her own words, she was to discover that the theory of emergency medical care was far from enough for those on the front line. Walter-Seaton delivered her first baby in her second month as an EMT in 1996.

"It was terrifying. You have the theoretical, but the hands-on is a different. When we arrived at the scene the baby was crowning. It was a minute or two before the baby was born. I had to clamp and cut the cord and suction the baby. I was trembling. But after a time you get used to it."

In general, emergency services provided by the EMS include medical treatment for heart conditions, stroke and shortness of breath.

EMS also treats blunt trauma injuries including those caused by gunshots, stab wounds and falls. Yet another category is motor vehicle accidents involving collisions and pedestrians struck by moving vehicles. The final category is that of obstetrics and gynaecology involving childbirth and miscarriage.

Walter-Seaton notes that on an accident scene, victims may have a fracture which needs setting, but one also has to be wary of internal and other injuries which may need surgical interventions. Depending on the severity, one must look out for injuries which can lead to paralysis.

Number one problem with children

She is particularly concerned about geriatric and paediatric patients.

"Most babies and small children cannot talk or explain what they are feeling. The number one problem with children are respiratory illnesses and they deteriorate very fast. In two minutes they can be gone, if they are not monitored carefully."

Geriatrics, she said, feel a lot of pain and thus elicit sympathy from emergency medical technicians (EMTs). "You encourage and say you understand."

Despite the emotional and physical strain involved in the lives of EMTs, Walter-Seaton states that it is rewarding when you know that you have worked to save lives.

EMTs attend refresher courses every two years. Promotion is possible to three levels including basic, intermediate and paramedic.

Walter-Seaton states that EMT who love what they do also have deep resources of patience. "You really have to love what you are doing to be an EMT. Even though you have the technical skills, it requires patience.

"It's rewarding knowing I have helped to save someone's life. It's something on the inside. I really love what I do," she states.
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