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Competing to save lives; Fla. paramedic teams face off in warm up for national event

BOCA RATON, Fla. The clock was ticking; the paramedics didn't have much time.

At three minutes, they stabilized a man complaining of chest pains. His lung was slowly collapsing.

At six minutes, they turned their attention to a 3-year-old with a stake stuck through his neck.

At 10 minutes, paramedic Brendan Branagan pulled a long plastic tube from his bag and stuck it down the throat of a man taking wheezing breaths.

"Time!" someone yelled from the back of the room.

The drill was over.

Branagan and his team from Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue were responding to a mock accident during the 2007 EMS Challenge held Tuesday at Boca Raton Community Hospital. They were one of seven teams from Broward and Palm Beach counties that competed in the event organized by Boca Raton Fire Rescue.

"You have to be mentally prepared for anything," said Branagan, who's been with Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue more than eight years. "You get the butterflies in your stomach, and the best thing is to do is relax."

During the daylong competition, paramedic teams each had 15 minutes to respond to the same mock accident, providing appropriate care to patients with fake blood and injuries. Judges watched and scored the teams based on how well they handled the situation.

The event was meant to be a warm up for a national EMS competition next month in Orlando, said Shaun Fix, emergency medicine supervisor for Boca Raton Fire Rescue.

Paramedic teams from all over South Florida attend the event, and they always do well, he said.

"These teams sometimes prepare for six or seven months," said Fix, who created the simulation for Tuesday's event. "It's fun. Their adrenaline is high. It's a little about ego, too, but most of all education."

Fix said such simulations help paramedics stay prepared and give them an opportunity to practice situations they often don't see in the field.

"In real life they usually have one patient to deal with," said Cindy Metcalf, assistant chief of EMS for Boca Raton Fire Rescue. "This [simulation] is considered almost a mass-casualty situation. In reality we'd call for back up."

On Tuesday, teams of three paramedics had to treat an injured child, a man with chest problems, another man with burns and a third having seizures - all in 15 minutes.

"There's so much going through your head when you get to a scene," said Joshua Delvecchio, from one of the two Palm Beach Community College paramedic student teams. "You really just have to rely on your training at that point, which is why these [simulations] are important."

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