Paintball teaches future EMTs ‘care under fire’

Future emergency medical technicians train to provide “care under fire” at a Houston paintball range.  “Mistakes can get you killed,” Ali Shah, a  San Jacinto College Emergency Medical Technology instructor,  told students as a team of experienced EMT students and instructors demonstrated a rescue.

“The team was perfect. No hits during the rescue,” Shah told the debriefing group. “But one member forgot his weapon, and the entire team had to return to the combat zone. When they did, everyone on the team was killed. It shows the importance of paying attention to details.”

Simulating combat with paintball fire teaches “care under fire,” moving patients from danger to a safe area where medics can provide care. Most EMTs won’t go into tactical EMT work, said Cindy Barbee, director of the San Jacinto College North EMT program. “However, there are aspects of care under fire training that apply to any EMT situation – teamwork and communication. Students also learn the importance of quick thinking and putting the needs of a patient first.”

Jarret Hardy hopes to use the training: After earning an associate degree, he plans to enlist in the Air Force. He hopes to serve as a pararescue jumper in the Air Force, then join a firefighter or tactical crew as a medic.  “The training helped to demonstrate who could serve as actual leaders, and how well people work under pressure,” he said.

EMTs train under (paintball) fire

To learn how to provide medical care under fire, San Jacinto College Emergency Medical Technology students crawled on to a simulated barrlefield and dodged paintball pellets while applying torniquets to “wounded comrades.”

 In the scenario, each student tactical team had a designated “wounded” member. Their objective was to move the casualty while under (paintball) fire to a protected area, and then provide medical care for the patient, and finally to move the patient out of the danger zone.

Ali Shah,an EMT instructor at the Houston college and a U.S. Army veteran, said the goal was to provide true-to-life training.  Students had to work together in a high-stress environment.

After the paintball exercise, Edward Hines decided to pursue tactical EMT work. “It’s exciting. I love it.” After earning his EMT degree, he plans to enlist in the Army as a combat medic.