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First Class Training

DATE: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

HCC's new, enhanced EMT program produced its first class of graduates

EMT students Bonnie and Justin Cook, from Hardwick, perform CPR on a "patient," during a simulated emergency at Holyoke Community College.

The patient, Mr. Santiago, was in cardiac arrest, so Justin Cook and his wife, Bonnie, began CPR.

Justin performed chest compressions; Bonnie handled ventilations.

Despite their efforts, however, Mr. Santiago died.

"That was terrible," Justin said a little while later, evaluating his performance.

"We're gonna get there," Bonnie offered, in consolation.

The scene took place a couple of months ago, when the Cooks were about halfway through the new enhanced EMT training program offered at Holyoke Community College. Mr. Santiago is actually a $58,000 high-tech patient simulator. This was the Cooks' first time putting their classroom training into practice during an emergency simulation exercise.

"The experience was intense," Bonnie said.

Last month, after more than 170 hours of training, in the classroom and in the medical simulation rooms at HCC's Center for Health Education, the Cooks passed the course and their state exam. They are now both certified basic-level emergency medical technicians and hope to put their training into practice as EMTs in their hometown of Hardwick. 

"We were asked to help out our community, so we were ready to volunteer," said Justin, 26, who was already an on-call firefighter in Hardwick.

The Cooks were part of the inaugural class of this new program. According to Ken White, dean of Community Service, all 11 students who completed the course passed their state certification exams.

"The program went extremely well," White said. "The instruction was exceptional. The students were very very happy, and the state was very pleased with the facility as well as the equipment and the results of the exams."

Last fall, HCC received a $127,741 state Workforce Skills Capital Grant to purchase new equipment to enhance its EMT training program, which is offered through TWO — Training and Workforce Options — HCC's collaboration with Springfield Technical Community College.
"It is the exact same equipment you will find in well-equipped modern ambulances today," White said. "So our students already have experience using the same equipment they'll be using in the field."

Grant money was also used to purchase "Mr. Santiago," a simulator specifically designed for EMT and paramedic training.

"He hemorrages, and you can apply pressure to stop bleeding or use a tourniquet, and he has a computer that records how much pressure is being applied," said Michelle Sherlin, coordinator of HCC's simulation laboratories, who orchestrated the simulation exercises for the EMT program.

Not only that, but students can use a real defibrillator to shock him, and he has a built-in CPR monitor that shows the effectiveness of the compressions and ventilations.

"This is actually the highest level of equipment that I've seen or taught with," said instructor Mike Marafuga, an EMT with the Soutwick Fire Department. "I've never used simulation with an EMT program, so this is actually one of the first classes that I know of in the state that does this."

Sherlin agreed.

"This is pretty innovative, what we're doing here," she said.

The next Emergency Medical Technician Basic Course begins Sept. 12 and runs through Dec. 7, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at HCC's Center for Health Education, 404 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. For more information, please contact Ken White at 413.552.2324 or

STORY and PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: Bonnie and Justin Cook, from Hardwick, perform CPR on a "patient," during a simulated emergency at Holyoke Community College. They were members of the first class of HCC's new enhanced EMT training program.