03/09/10 — Duplin County EMS earn national championship

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Duplin County EMS earn national championship

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 9, 2010 1:46 PM

The Duplin County Emergency Medical Service teamed up with the Cumberland County-based Cape Fear Valley EMS to bring a national EMS championship, and more than $20,000 in medical equipment, home to North Carolina.

Members of both EMS departments combined forces last week in Baltimore, Md., during the Journal of Emergency Medicine Games 2010.

Brian Pearce, EMS director for Duplin County, and Dave Cuddeback, training officer with Duplin County EMS, worked together with long-time friends and colleagues Lee Westbrook and Larry Smith of the Cape Fear Valley Health System to claim the top honor. Smith also works part-time with Duplin County.

Pearce started his career in emergency medicine as a basic EMT with Cumberland County EMS. Cuddeback has worked as a paramedic for Wilson and Wayne County EMS. Smith is an education coordinator for the Cape Fear Valley Health System, and Westbrook serves as a supervisor for the Cape Fear Valley EMS.

In past state and regional EMS competitions, the two services have sometimes been pitted against each other in two-man teams, but four-man teams are required for the national competition. This was the second time that Duplin County EMS personnel participated in the competition, and the first time they went home with the top prize.

"It was an unbelievable feeling. We were surprised because of the number of teams that were there and the knowledge that was there ... there were a lot of great EMS teams," Pearce said.

It was not the first time the four N.C. EMS officials have worked side by side, Pearce said.

The four team members have competed and worked together in emergency medicine for more than a decade. Today, all four primarily work in the administration of EMS departments, but maintain their dedication to patients and keep their skills updated.

Having a history of working well together helped the teammates win the competition, Pearce said.

"Absolutely, and we're all good friends," he said.

The competition was an exercise in front-line emergency medicine, with team members thrown into the middle of a mock HAZMAT emergency, a simulated choking incident that turned into a cardiac problem and then a veritable obstacle course of getting a patient from the scene to a waiting ambulance. Team members had to crawl through a tunnel and up and down a flight of stairs while carrying a mannequin on a stretcher.

The combined team posted the second-best time in the preliminary competition and advanced to the finals, where the exercises, and pressure, heated up even further. The EMS teams faced a final scenario of a serious bus crash, and had only 20 minutes to treat nine different patients.

"We do what we call triage, which is what we would do in real life if we came across that scenario," Pearce said.

The rescuers assessed each patient and began treating the most severely injured "patients" first. At the end of the 20 minutes, they managed to treat all of the volunteers.

The teams were judged on the evaluation and treatment of the patients and scene management and interaction with other rescuers on the scene.

Both Duplin and Cumberland County services have won state and regional competition honors for their past performances, and combining the two teams "produced some phenomenal results," Pearce said.

The team started preparing for the competition three months ago. Pearce, Smith and Westbrook were the primary participants while Cuddeback was the technical advisor and alternate.

The competition was about more than just winning accolades, however. The competition also gives teams a chance for additional training and education at the conference. The four team members attended classes taught by internationally-renowned doctors and leaders in the EMS field, Pearce said.

"It helps a lot, there were several speakers who are renowned emergency physicians," he said.

The instructors demonstrated and gave lessons about the newest emergency medical technology and techniques. The information will help the Duplin County EMS provide care as advanced as any available in the country, Pearce said.

The two departments will share the EMS prizes, equipment valued at $20,000, with the other members of their departments. The Duplin County EMS participants will receive new uniforms, some small tools such as suction devices and rescue knives and one major piece of equipment, a fiber optic camera, that will help technicians secure an injured patient's airway.