Live wires dangled from the ceiling of the theater. One victim lay on the floor unconscious from an electrical shock while a second was awake but suffering from a puncture wound. Music blared, adding to the anxiety.
It was a high-stakes, high-stress situation that would overwhelm many adults.
In this case, nearly 100 high school students training to be emergency first responders jumped into action, triaging mock victims as judges scrutinized their every move at the Minnesota Youth Emergency Care Competition.
The annual competition was started 28 years ago by high school health occupation teachers. In this winter’s competition, students from three high school programs — Forest Lake, Osseo and Spring Lake Park — entered.
“It was a good experience for the whole team,” said Karina Larsen, one of four Forest Lake Area High School students who participated. “We got exposed to many different scenarios of what can happen in a real-life situation.”
Her teacher, Paul Kendrick, said Forest Lake’s participation was a pilot effort that went so well that the school will compete again next year, and probably take more teams. Forest Lake ranked 10th overall in a field of 25 four-person teams, he said.
“They thought it was fantastic. They really had fun,” Kendrick said of Larsen and her three teammates, John Hagen, Danielle Rybak and Arne Woinarowicz. All are seniors.
Students competing at Spring Lake Park High School responded to three scenarios — one in a theater with electrical hazards and bleeding victims, another a pool rescue where they performed CPR for 15 minutes, and another in a fire involving a mother, infant and an ailing firefighter. Volunteer students and CPR dummies served as victims.
“It’s a dose of reality and a significant chunk of stress,” said Spring Lake Park teacher Bill Neiss. “Often, they find they know more than they thought they did, and they can deal with the stress.”
All of the students are enrolled in high school medical courses and some receive EMT certification at age 18.
Competition organizers change the scenarios each year, adding surprises. One year, students had to rescue a victim pinned under a portable toilet. Most of the teams failed to check inside, where there was a second victim.
Another year, students helped a pregnant woman in labor while the panicked father fell and broke his leg. Students had to deliver the baby, cut the umbilical cord and clear the infant’s airway.
Kendrick, a volunteer on Scandia’s fire rescue squad for 22 years, said each of his EMT students must complete 10 real-life “patient contacts,” which they can do in ambulance ride-alongs. Interest in the class ranges from curiosity to professional preparation, he said, because “some of them look at some form of health careers.”
One of the parents at the competition, Chuck Holien, watched his son Nick perform during the pool rescue.
Holien, 46, had a particular parental interest. He suffered chest pains the weekend before Thanksgiving. He assumed it was just anxiety. His son, enrolled in Osseo High School’s EMT class, told him to go to a hospital to be checked for a possible heart attack. He did, and doctors confirmed it.
“I would probably just have continued on. I hadn’t been to a doctor in six years,” Holien said.
Mackenzie Cook, a senior at Spring Lake Park High School, was in her second year of competition. She and her classmates also took part in the pool rescue scenario.
“That was a big challenge, doing the pool,” she said.
Cook, who is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth this fall, said she’s pursuing a career in the medical field. Her high school EMT training offered a dose of reality, she said: “Last year, we learned about IVs and I fainted.”
Kim Crane competed in the critical care competition two decades ago. It led to a medical career. Crane works at Hennepin County Medical Center. She watched her son, Park Center senior Alex Winkelman, compete.
“Even if you don’t go into the medical field, it gives you life experience,” Crane said. “It makes you willing to step up in any situation. It gives you the confidence to step up and do the right thing.”
Forest Lake’s Larsen, who envisions an EMT career, said her four-person team found out that effective emergency responses involve more than procedures. They learned, she said, something they can teach other EMT students.
“We can set examples of what friends and teamwork look like,” she said.