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Paramedics train through pandemic to join Madison Fire Department

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The newest paramedics joining the Madison Fire Department saw a unique training experience as COVID-19 hit the state.

After months of classroom preparation at Madison College, David Bartkowiak, Tyler Prothero and Brian Tremain were looking forward to spending their final months training on a working ambulance.

"I had a great perspective from a young age and just knew that this is something I wanted to pursue," Tremain said.

That was early March. It only took a few weeks for the training to hit a snag.

"That timeline changed right in the middle of our ride time so we really got an experience with COVID right when we were students on the ambulance," Tremain said.

Prothero said for him, the greatest challenge was a lack of information, about the virus and the protocols the department needed to follow.

"Initially when we didn't know a whole lot about how it's transmitted and everything was definitely getting me more amped up because of that," he said.

Bartkowiak said the trainees weren't the only ones facing that anxiety.

"Veteran paramedics were doing something they're not used to doing and so were brand new paramedics," he said.

Over the next few weeks the department crafted their plan to respond, starting with finding the right information.

"Dispatch is asking all their patients if they're able to if they have been in contact with anybody that's been Covid positive or we're having signs of it," Prothero said.

The next step involved ensuring the department had the proper personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. That includes face masks, gloves, gowns and face shields.

"If I'm a paramedic and I walk up to this cab right here and it looks like alright we've got a bad breather or somebody's coughing. in today's world, this is gonna go on," Bartkowiak said.

From there Tremain said the lessons he and his classmates have been learning all along kicked in.

"The focus is to move fluidly through problems. This was just another problem," he said.

Paramedic training covers respiratory emergencies and in most cases, the students said that's what COVID calls look like. From there, Tremain said the focus can return to caring for those in need.

"People are calling on their worst of days so how can we take away some elements from their situation and bring them a sense of peace and comfort," he said.

Despite a difficult end to their education, all three paramedics in training said the experience only proved the job will be more than a profession, but rather a calling.

"It's just something that I know I feel and I know Brian and I know Tyler all just kind of have that same gut feeling," Bartkowiak said.

All three students took their final practical exams in early June. If they pass they will get their station assignments and begin working as full-time paramedics by Mid-July.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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