TRUMBULL — Hands-on training during a pandemic requires a bit of imagination.

That’s what EMS Director Leigh Goodman was faced with when COVID-19 made in-person training a health risk.

Goodman, who coordinates two classes a year for prospective EMS volunteers, thought she was going to have to cancel the summer class this year. But her students wouldn’t let her.

“We had started planning this class back in November, and we were hoping to get 20 students. But when the pandemic hit, I thought everyone would want the class to be canceled,” Goodman said. “But they kept contacting me, calling me every week to tell me they still wanted to do it.”

Running an Emergency Medical Technician training class during a pandemic is a special challenge, though, Goodman said.

“How do you create a realistic situation when no one’s allowed to touch each other?” she said.

For starters, the instructors created an intensive five-week class that combined online self-paced learning with in-person training sessions. The training sessions, though, required adding a new entrance to the EMS building since the building is a quarantine zone.

“We were holding classes in the (garage) bays with the doors open and everyone wearing masks and shields,” Goodman said. “To lower the risk of cross-contamination, we gave each student individual gear bags, but they had to earn the contents (blood pressure cuffs, bandages, tourniquets, etc) through completing class assignments.”

The realism got an added level with the donation of an electronic patient simulator. The medical dummy is wired for attachment to a tablet computer, and simulates various symptoms. It also responds to treatment and allows students to hear heart rhythms and other breathing and circulatory sounds.

“We used the simulators to mimic heart and lung sounds that they had to diagnose, we simulated a mother giving birth, and a baby with the placenta still attached. We made it as realistic as possible.”

The device, which cost $25,000, was a gift from a benefactor, she said.

The pandemic also meant students could not do their normal ambulance ride-alongs and emergency room visits, Goodman said. Once again, sophisticated simulator technology filled in the gaps, she said.

All told, 16 students completed the class. Most have since passed their written certification test and are in the process of taking their hands-on practical exams. Once those are complete, they will join the volunteer EMS force, boosting the volunteer roster to nearly 80.

“Normally with the summer EMT class, we get students that either just graduated high school or they’re back from their first year of college,” she said.

But with the pandemic, many more of the graduates may stick around Trumbull instead of heading off to college. And even though the EMS relies on a core group of about 30 volunteers, during emergencies, it’s all hands on deck, Goodman said.

“You take the recent storm, where we knew there were likely to be trees down, and parts of town could be cut off from other parts,” she said. “We were able to stage ambulances in different areas of town because we knew we could potentially have trouble getting there once the storm started. When something like that happens, the first thing I do is start calling the volunteers, and when they get the call, almost everyone says ‘yes.’”

deng@trumbulltimes.com