Forget the typical classroom. In this training academy, desks and whiteboards make way for sheer cliff faces, treacherous canyons and raging seas.
Lessons are held in the pouring rain, the scorching heat and the frigid cold.
It’s where escaping from a submerged helicopter cabin as waves crash around you is a compulsory subject and propelling yourself out of one soon becomes second nature.
(Just quietly, there are some desks and whiteboards too.)
These are just a few of the elements of training to become a critical care paramedic and then staying on top of the game once you’ve made the cut.
It’s an intense and highly specialised job and there is a dedicated team of helicopter paramedic educators who are tasked with ensuring we have some of the best trained critical care paramedics and doctors in the world.
This responsibility means the team of three full-time and five part-time educators must also be at the top of their game. Between them they have decades of experience in the air and responding to some of the biggest disasters the state has endured – the Thredbo landslide, the Kempsey and Grafton bus crashes and the countless bushfires and flood emergencies. But they’ve also rescued hundreds from remote bush tracks or plucked panicked patients from the roughest of seas.
These helicopter paramedic educators are skilled in the gamut of disciplines required to successfully respond to emergencies and also provide intensive care transportation for critically ill patients. They have done the years in the field and are now dedicated to passing on that knowledge to empower the next generation of critical care paramedics. They also use lessons learned in specific jobs to devise better ways of helping those in need and keep patients and crews safe.
The role of a critical care paramedic is an exciting one and a pivotal part of NSW Ambulance, but much like every specialised unit, it’s not for everyone.
Every year there is a period where intensive care paramedics have the opportunity to take the next step. It’s a rigorous testing regimen known has HOST – Helicopter Operations Suitability Testing.
HOST tests a range of competencies including physical fitness, clinical aptitude, concentration and situational stress testing and a range of other skills.
During the most recent testing session, potential critical care paramedics were thrown into a mock situation and were observed and rated on how they assessed the scenario and treated the patients. The chaotic scene, which was staged and set-up perfectly by the educators, involved a couple of painters who had fallen from scaffolding at a job site. One had a compound fracture and arterial bleed in the leg, while the other had a head injury and was unconscious but no other visible injuries.
Working alone with little light and blaring music in the background, those being tested had to demonstrate how they would tackle this kind of situation. These are respected intensive care paramedics who have all excelled out on the road, but throw in a few of the elements that are regular obstacles for a critical care paramedic and it’s a whole new ballgame.
Not everyone will make it through the HOST stage and that’s to be expected. This provides paramedics who are determined to join the team an opportunity to focus on training up in certain areas before having another go.