2007-02-10 / Top News

Four Students To Fill Mackinac Island's EMT Ranks

By Karen Gould

Practicing on Airway Trainer Fred are Mackinac Island Emergency Medical Technician students (from left) Mark Bielinsk, Molly Green, Lorie Sturm, and Brandy Shunk. Not pictured is class instructor Mark Wilk of St. Ignace. Practicing on Airway Trainer Fred are Mackinac Island Emergency Medical Technician students (from left) Mark Bielinsk, Molly Green, Lorie Sturm, and Brandy Shunk. Not pictured is class instructor Mark Wilk of St. Ignace. Mackinac Island is in desperate need of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and, by this summer, four residents hope to become licensed and help assist the three men who have covered the Island's needs since fall.

Mark Bielinsk, Molly Green, Brandy Shunk, and Lorie Sturm travel to St. Ignace every Monday and Thursday night for EMT classes. They also have a Saturday class approximately every six weeks.

"On the Island, I don't know what we would do without them," said Mark Wilk, Allied EMS Systems team leader and EMT instructor for St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. "They are very dedicated. They have committed to making sure that the ambulance is covered."

By the end of August, with EMT Pam Lach injured and Christine Roguska moving off the Island, only Paramedic Rick Linn, EMT Specialist Allen Burt, and EMT Sam Barnwell were left to staff the Island ambulance.

"These four people are such a prize possession for us," said Mr. Barnwell of the new students. "They will double our summer staff."

Since this fall, Messrs. Barnwell, Burt, and Linn have been supported during the day by Island police officers, who are trained emergency medical first responders, to serve the 500 residents who live on the Island in the winter months. As the summer population swells with workers, summer residents, and visitors, the police will be needed elsewhere, said Mr. Wilk.

"This class is solving a huge problem we have for staffing," said Mr. Barnwell.

An EMT earns $2 an hour while on call and has a starting wage of $8.10 while out on a call.

The challenge to become an EMT is demanding and to do so while living on Mackinac Island requires additional dedi- cation, tenacity, and commitment. Travel to and from the St. Ignace Middle School classroom is hard enough in the winter. The students carry a three-inch-thick textbook and an emergency overnight bag in case weather leaves them stranded in St. Ignace for the night.

Since classes began November 13, the students have taken the last boat from the Island each Monday and Thursday, and returned by plane from the Mackinac County airport. If weather makes air travel impossible, class is canceled. So far, the weather turned unexpectedly bad during one December class and the students were unable to return to the Island. They spent the night at a St. Ignace hotel.

Classes will continue until April 14. By then, the students will have completed 182 hours of classroom training and will then be required to get 48 hours of clinical experience from hospitals in Cheboygan, Marquette, or Petoskey.

The students pay the $315 for their book and tuition, are tested twice a week, must make arrangements for clinical work experience on the mainland, and need to pass state exams before they can become licensed.

Classroom work includes learning anatomy, all the bones of the body, and understanding the circulatory system and how it works, said Mr. Wilk. Students also learn how to take vital signs and how to physically transport a patient. Once licensed, they will be able to do everything from managing an airway for breathing to controlling bleeding and applying a splint to a broken bone.

"There is a lot to learn in a short period of time," said Mrs. Shunk, who is taking the class for a change of profession, who was previously employed at Doud Mercantile.

She and her husband, Ryan, live in Harrisonville and have two children. Learning the medical terms is the hardest part of the class, she believes.

"My kids laugh at me all the time because I have homework like they do," she said.

Lorie Sturm, whose husband, David, works at Mission Point Resort, has lived on the Island since April. She attended college in Ohio and wanted to be a police officer, but her brother, who is a paramedic, sparked her interest in becoming an EMT.

"We learn a lot of information really fast," she said, "and someone's life really depends on it, so you have to know it. It's no small commitment," she said of the training.

Her comments were confirmed as fellow class members shouted out answers to questions asked by instructor Wilk like, "What happens when someone is in cardiogenic shock?"

Mrs. Sturm says she has every intention to continue her training to become an EMT Specialist.

"I thought this would be a good place to start," she said.

Molly Green, a resident for 14 years, lives in the village with her husband, Robert. She works 12 hours a day in the summer providing private carriage tours for Gough-Brodeur Stables, Inc. and she has a degree in equine studies.

"I like to learn about everything and I like to read," she said.

Mrs. Green said she learned while helping family members with medical problems that she is good at taking care of people, and has wanted to take the EMT class for 10 years.

Already showing a dedication as a future EMT, she regrets the limited amount of time she will be able to commit to the ambulance during the summer months because of her job.

"I will be able to do more in the winter," she said. "I feel bad I won't be able to do more."

As an EMT, she expects to respond to a lot of bicycle accidents and treat fractures from the falls.

Mark Bielinsk of Harrisonville has worked for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours since 1982. During the summer he spends time on carriage maintenance and in the winter he is in charge of taking care of the horseshoes for the remaining horses on the Island. In the winter, he works five days a week and in the summer, he works every day.

He was motivated to become an EMT because being involved with Carriage Tours, he often is one of the first people on the scene when someone is having a medical problem. He cites the example of visitors with allergy or asthma problems or a child who rides a bike into a horse. He said while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he has felt helpless.

He talked over his idea to take the class with his bosses, who supported his decision, he said.

A self-proclaimed "hands on kind of guy," he says the practical part of an EMT's job does not bother him.

While the twice-weekly testing can be intimidating, he said, "I've learned much more than I ever knew before."

One of the unexpected advantages from taking the class is watching medical shows on television, he said. Learning the medical terminology and how it applies has increased his understanding of the care being given to the television patients.

"I now know what they are talking about," he said. "Before that, I didn't have a clue."

Once they receive their license from the state, the students will be Basic EMTs and will be able to apply splints, control bleeding, and help people breath. They will be able to provide diabetic care and give medication for an allergic reaction. They will also be able to used a defibrillator and treat asthma attacks.

"Basic EMTs are now required to learn more," said Mr. Wilk.

An EMT must earn more than 30 credit hours every three years to remain certified.

Mr. Wilk said he would like to get as many Island residents trained as possible.

The four students, he added, "are doing this for the dedication to their community and not for the pay."

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