Tactical safety: Watervliet education center instructors train Detroit EMS providers

Geoff Denison, left, with the University Park Fire Department and Matthew Quinn, an instructor and managing partner with MHEC, practice self-defense techniques Wednesday at the Michiana Healthcare Education Center in Watervliet. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Geoff Denison, left, with the University Park Fire Department and Matthew Quinn, an instructor and managing partner with MHEC, practice self-defense techniques Wednesday at the Michiana Healthcare Education Center in Watervliet. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

WATERVLIET — The job of a first responder can be dangerous.

Such was the case for two Detroit paramedics, who were attacked and stabbed with a box cutter in October when they were trying to help an injured woman. The incident brought a national spotlight on the safety of Detroit’s first responders and would spawn the consideration to train EMS officials and paramedics.

That’s where Michiana Healthcare Education Center Inc., a Watervliet-based education center that offers a variety of medical-related training programs, got involved.

Various EMS officials from Detroit, Battle Creek and Missouri began training with MHEC instructors Monday in Watervliet. It marked what would be a one-week DT4EMS Fire and EMS instructor training course – which stands for Defensive Tactics 4 Escaping Mitigating Surviving.

Matthew Quinn, who is an instructor and managing partner with MHEC, said the first two days everybody learned the DT4EMS curriculum by escaping violent encounters in class and on the mat with a partner. For the remainder of the week, nurses and first responders in fire and EMS divisions are learning how to teach the class to others.

“We are the only profession in the world that has to differentiate between a patient and an attacker,” said Quinn, who serves as Keeler Township’s fire chief. “Someone who is drunk or high and is trying to kill me, will respond the same way that someone who is diabetic and just came out of a seizure.”

The difference is diabetics are only trying to protect themselves and don’t know what they are doing, he said. “We have to understand and decide what their intent is. That’s a hard critical thinking skill to learn.”

When Quinn and other MHEC instructors travel to Detroit next week, they will teach the paramedics the same tactics for the next eight weeks alongside those who were already trained in Watervliet.

The workload includes training more than 260 of Detroit’s EMS providers.

“The plan is to train them, then to have them train all their new hires,” Quinn said. “This is a remedial course, so every two years they have to go through the training again.”

Lt. John Sablowski, top, with the Detroit Fire Department EMS Division, and Jeff Forbes, a paramedic with the Detroit Fire Department, run through a training session on how to defend a mugger’s chokehold Wednesday at the Michiana Healthcare Education Center in Watervliet. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Lt. John Sablowski, top, with the Detroit Fire Department EMS Division, and Jeff Forbes, a paramedic with the Detroit Fire Department, run through a training session on how to defend a mugger’s chokehold Wednesday at the Michiana Healthcare Education Center in Watervliet. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The course’s main focus is to provide good customer service. By doing that, EMS and other first responders avoid those violent encounters. In addition to learning how to verbally de-escalate potential assailants, EMS officials are being taught physical techniques on how to escape a violent encounter.

During Wednesday’s training session, a few first responders teamed up and practiced the mugger’s chokehold and how to escape when an assailant is mounted on top.

These physical training sessions are mixed in with other lessons taught in a classroom setting. Those training to be instructors for DT4EMS class switch from the classroom to the mat between 30 and 40 times in a 16-hour period.

Jamie Whelan, a charge nurse at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, was there with two of her co-workers after being asked to learn to become an instructor for the DT4EMS course.

“We’ve experienced bodily fluids thrown at us, punching, hitting, kicking and some homicidal threats,” Whelan said. “In the two days we’ve been here, we’ve learned how to defend ourselves while staying safe and getting home to our families. All of it hits home because we deal with it on a daily basis.”

Lt. Damon Sutton comes from the Detroit Fire Department with the EMS Division. He will be one of the instructors who helps teach the EMS division over the next eight weeks and was one of the eight people learning the course Wednesday.

Sutton, who is in charge of the training session for his division, said he was surprised by the ease of the tactics. He said he believes these tactics will prove useful on the job, as he recalled a time when he was once assaulted by a diabetic patient early in his career.

“Being here on the teaching aspect, you know what you can and can’t do,” Sutton said. “Being here, you learn the correct techniques and tactics to prevent or reduce the risk of being injured.”

Quinn, who started teaching the DT4EMS course locally in 2013, said the need for protection doesn’t only apply to those in the Detroit area. According to national study from 2008, workers in the health care sector were 16 times more likely to be confronted with violence on the job than any other service profession.

“We remind everyone that the issues the Detroit Fire Department staff have faced recently is not a local or regional problem,” he said. “This is a national epidemic that all first responders face daily on the job.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 11, 2016)

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