Dr. Bill Huffner admits it was “for selfish reasons” that he sought to establish a new course at Elmira Notre Dame High School.
Yet his brand of selfishness can hardly be criticized. In fact, Huffner’s motives may well end up saving lives: His curriculum deals with emergency medical service.
“There is a huge problem with volunteerism in EMS in the region — we need to grow. If we expose younger students earlier, we might spark some interest,” said Huffner, who serves as Southern Tier regional director for EMSTAR (Emergency Medical Services Training, Administration and Resources), a not-for-profit organization that provides medical education and training services to the community.
Beginning in the fall of 2004, Huffner has taught EMS on a volunteer basis at Notre Dame, marking the first time such a course has been offered at the school. Students have acquired valuable experience in areas such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and taking blood pressure, working toward certification in lifesaving first-response skills needed by the first to arrive on the scene of a medical emergency.
To acquire this experience, students often performed field work after school and on weekends. They rode along on ambulance calls, practicing some techniques they had learned in class, and observed medical care given in the emergency room of Arnot Ogden Medical Center, where Huffner formerly served as emergency-department director.
Heather Connelly, a Notre Dame senior, is thankful that such a course was offered at her high school.
“I’m really interested in biology and might go into a career in medicine. This was really the only kind of medical course we had here,” said Heather, 17, a parishioner of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads.
Like Heather, Jessica Grannis has relished getting a jump-start on her career. The 17-year-old senior hopes to become a nurse, and credits the EMS course for sparking an interest in emergency-room nursing.
“I got to go on a call for a car accident. I got to do some blood pressure and pulse rate, and we had to flush out a patient’s eye,” said Jessica, a member of St. Mary’s Southside Parish. “We also learned to do the defibrillators (electronic devices used to re-establish a normal heartbeat), and that’s helpful because now they have them at all the restaurants.”
Working closely with professionals also has given Jessica insight on how to relate with patients — “how to deal with them, to calm them down and calm their family down.”
Even for those not pursuing medical careers, Jessica said EMS training could be useful in emergency situations. “Stuff like that happens all the time,” she said, noting that she has witnessed several injury-related ambulance calls during her athletic career at Notre Dame. “I think it’s good to know any first aid or health care.”
In November, all 12 of Huffner’s students completed the highest level of CPR training recognized by the American Heart Association. Classes wrapped up in January, with all participants passing their first responder state-certification exams. The class average was 96. Passing the test gave each student four credit hours at Corning Community College, at no extra cost.
With college credit available and lifesaving measures being taught, it’s obvious that this is no “cake” course.
“For the first class we were very selective about students. It’s not an easy class, that’s for sure,” said Huffner, a Notre Dame graduate and parishioner at Elmira’s Our Lady of Lourdes.
Taking the course also may mean enduring some graphic scenes. For instance, Heather said, “There was emergency-room surgery for this guy because a tree fell on him. I got a little sick; I couldn’t really help it.”
The course was made possible through a unique collaboration between Notre Dame, EMSTAR, Erway Ambulance, Corning Community College, and Arnot Ogden. Huffner said he would like to expand course offerings to enroll more students for the 2005-06 school year. In the meantime, he continues hoping that more volunteers — of all ages — will be up for the challenge of EMS training.
“More and more people are becoming busier and busier. With both mom and dad working, they’re more stretched,” Huffner said. “We need people world- and state-wide. We need volunteers, who make up the backbone of the system.”