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Soldiers with New York's National Guard train to become EMTs

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - For the first time ever, members of New York’s National Guard are getting medical training at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, as they prepare to help ease health care personnel shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

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

"We would splint the whole leg and also the ankle, and you would do that quickly,” said one instructor.

Across a large training room, another group is pumping fake blood into a pretend 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 City taking the crash course.

“You get a better picture when you are doing it yourself, and god forbid you are in the real world and it happens, and you don’t know what to do. So this is perfect,” Locus said.

This training stems from a partnership between the State Department of Health and the National Guard announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul late last year, to train soldiers to become certified EMTs in order to be deployed at health care facilities in need of staff due to the pandemic.

“The graduates will be able to assist anywhere we need them in a medical capacity will be available starting in early February,” Hochul said. “So that’s a very short time frame for us to be able add more people to our army of support for all the health care institutions and nursing homes that need extra help."

600 National Guard members are taking part in trainings like this across the state, bypassing the usual six month course needed to become a licensed Emergency Medical Technician. Douglas Sandbrook, Director of EMS education at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, said the training has been tweaked, with half in a classroom, the other half more hands-on experience.

"We’re still delivering the same content we would for our other course, it’s just in a much condensed timeframe,” Sandbrook said.

Spec. Casim Coleman of Buffalo admitted it’s a lot to take in.

“I’ve learned a lot of life saving tips in a higher degree and a faster rate,” Coleman said. “This is a six month course and we’ll do it in four weeks. And if you buckle down and do it, it’s possible."

Once certified, the members will be state certified Emergency Medical Technicians, capable of supporting EMS and fire operations. Col. Richard Goldenberg, spokesperson for the New York National Guard, said looking beyond crises created by the pandemic, the trained individuals will still be needed.

"Whether it’s a superstorm Sandy or whether it’s another severe storm that needs augmentation in first responder capabilities, the EMT training is one of those core elements that can be used across a wide range of needs,” Goldenberg said.