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TIERS bunk-in program a success, recruits future paramedics

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CLAYTON — The Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service’s bunk-in program has taught Tracy D. Evans that it’s OK to have fears, but she’d better act quickly on them.

The Evans Mills resident has a few day shifts per week at the squad to gain hands-on experience as she prepares to graduate in 2014 with an associate of applied science degree in paramedic studies from Jefferson Community College, Watertown.

“I never thought I could do it,” Mrs. Evans said. “It wasn’t the blood that bothered me. It was that someone’s life would be in my hands and can I save them? Now I know I can go out there and save people.”

When she’s not studying for exams, practicing various medical techniques or cleaning the quarters, Mrs. Evans is responding to emergency calls received by TIERS. Since she began with the bunk-in program in August, she’s handled calls ranging from elderly people who need help getting up after a fall to a person in cardiac arrest.

The bunk-in program was initiated in 2010 with a $10,000 Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization grant. It helped cover the cost of structural improvements to accommodate the program and to provide free room and board to participants who are enrolled in JCC’s two-year paramedic program, if they choose to stay there, and a biweekly stipend provided by the rescue service and a laptop computer in exchange for covering a minimum of 24 hours of emergency calls per week. Mrs. Evans often stays beyond the minimum required time.

The other program participant is Megan A. Elsbury.

Roland G. Churchill, executive director of TIERS, said the program has been a solution to a dire north country problem: a lack of people, particularly young adults, becoming involved in volunteer or paid emergency medical services.

“We have just as much of a shortage of paramedics” as nurses, he said, regarding health care employment in the region. “I’d hoped other squads would have done this. This helps the agency with availability of manpower and real experience for people like Tracy. I appreciate young people like Tracy becoming a paramedic. It’s huge.”

Mrs. Evans, 25, said the program has helped her gain confidence. While it’s difficult sometimes to see patients die after she’s tried to save their life, she said, various coping mechanisms help her move forward.

Because of the success of the TIERS bunk-in program and the recruitment of emergency medical service providers it brought to the area, Mr. Churchill said, TIERS will continue the program indefinitely.

Former Watertown Police Chief Joseph J. Goss, who runs FDRHPO’s Emergency Medical Services Program, said he’d like to see the bunk-in program expand. Emergency medical services often are taken for granted, he said, because people tend to think of it only when they need it.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Mr. Goss said.

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