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West Valley EMTs Earn Top Spot in National Clinical Challenge

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By Rich Place

A pair of volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) from West Valley recently proved they are among the best in what they do and were rewarded for it with a trip next year to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Shawn and Heather Lafferty beat a group of 20 EMT-Basics, including two other pairs in a final round streamed live online, in a competition last month at EMS World Expo, deemed North America’s largest EMS event, in Las Vegas, Nev.

The married couple were the only volunteers in the competition, they said, which included teams from four different countries.

“It really was pretty cool to know that our training as a volunteer in Cattaraugus County — little ol’ West Valley — stood up in a world competition,” Shawn said. “We met their expectations.

“The training we do here at the county — if anyone thinks it’s second to none — well, we just kind of beat the world.”

The Laffertys entered the clinical challenge competition almost on a whim; they flew out to the expo in Las Vegas after one of the members of the fire department had complementary airplane tickets to be used for volunteer service. They had gone there initially for the expo’s other offerings, like the classes and vendors, Shawn said.

The initial round, held Thursday, Oct. 19, consisted of a three-minute online question-and-answer session. The couple was notified that evening they made the final three pairs and were guaranteed at least an iPad for qualifying for the final round.

The final round the following day was a bit more high stakes: a real-life scenario that was broadcast live on the EMS World Facebook page. The three teams were scored on specific parameters, the specifics of which were made known after the competition.

“It was an overdose patient,” Shawn said about the final round. “We had to recognize it was an overdose, administer oxygen, administer Narcan, treat for hypothermia because the scenario was that the person had been down and unconscious for six hours, and transport.”

The Laffertys — who traditionally do not work as a team because one often stays home with their children when a call comes in — completed the challenge in five minutes, well ahead of the 10-minute time limit.

During an awards ceremony later in the evening, the Laffertys learned they had won first prize: a trip to the worldwide EMS convention in Copenhagen in April.

“Just the fact we are volunteers and no one else was, and the fact that we are not a team like all the other teams were” was remarkable, Shawn said.

Shawn said he and his wife weren’t necessarily nervous about the final round, but admitted he was more nervous when they learned it would be streamed on Facebook Live.

“We were like ‘oh great’ — all our friends and chiefs who have trained us and anybody who has given us training in the past can actually judge our high-stress final competition,” he said. But that is seemingly where the nervousness ended.

“You go in there and you do a job,” he said both about the competition and his responsibility overall as an EMT. “You know what you got to do — we are basic life support. It’s our job to recognize a life threat, do what we can and transport to a hospital. That’s what we did.”

Shawn has been an EMT for about five years; Heather has been doing it for nearly 20 years and said her volunteer work as an EMT led her enter nursing school and change her career.

“It’s very humbling to know with the training I have been given I can (execute) without stressing out,” Heather said. “Twenty years ago, when I first started, that probably wouldn’t have been the case.”

Both Shawn and Heather credited the training they’ve received at both the local and county level, and credited their chiefs and past EMT captains for the knowledge they’ve passed on and their commitment for their volunteers to receive the best training for their duties.

Those interested in watching the competition can visit the live-recorded video by visiting bit.ly/2hTbKnU.

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