The International Rescue and Emergency Care Association (IRECA) will hold its annual conference and challenges in Houston Texas this year. Each year they put on challenges for 7-rescuer and 4-rescuer technical rescue teams as well as a BLS 3-rescuer teams. Participants come from various industrial settings, municipal agencies, and, in the youth division, some high school programs.

 High school students? Seventeen or 18-year-olds? Yes, students participate in the BLS challenge and serve as victims and organization volunteers for the technical rescue challenges during the week-long conference. In the BLS challenge, their teams compete beside the professional rescuers in the same scenarios and tests.

While scored separately, they are scored against the same standards as the adults. While some students come from explorer programs or other schools, most of the students come from a high school program called Opportunities in Emergency Care Association (OEC) in Spring Lake Park and Osseo, MN. The students train for a year to complete the basic training that leads them to be able to participate at IRECA. The class starts like you would expect. The students learn some basic first aid and CPR, but they are quickly thrown into acted out, moulaged, scenarios that test those first aid skills before they are really ready. They are also offered the chance to provide first aid at the local fall marathon, working with other health professionals to provide care to the runners and spectators.

This quick move into realistic scenarios and situations is a way to wake the students up. It helps them realize that this class is not just about information, knowledge, and memorization, but that there will be real people who will need their help some day. That realization is important to impress on the students as a real possibility early in the class because it is central to all the learning that will take place during the class.

First aid learning continues until the students go to fall camp. Students from different high school programs take over a bible camp in Wisconsin for a long weekend where they will learn teamwork, introduction to ambulances, fire extinguisher training, professionalism, and much more. They are put into situations where they have to work with similarly trained students who they do not know. This is a huge step for high school students to take and some are unable to it.

 The class continues into the EMR curriculum where they have more serious skills check offs to complete. They also are trained to be CPR instructors. Not all students decide to pursue the certification, but they are given plenty of opportunities to help instruct CPR in evening classes the program runs and in a program where the high school students go into the 8th grade classes to teach CPR. At the end of EMR, the students compete in a state-wide competition, very similar to IRECA, where 4-member teams are evaluated on three scenarios.

The year-long class ends with the bridge to EMT. The class brings in many speakers from various areas of emergency services and medical professions. There is a Spring Camp where students learn more ambulance operations. They run scenarios out of ambulances, package, transport, and deliver patients. The staff does the driving but the students have to put together their EMT level patient assessments, treatments, and patient moving skills to get the job done. Not all students obtain the certification. It often depends on their educational and career goals.

In addition to the year-long course, students may take related medical classes or, if they take OEC as a junior, they can return for a second-year experience where they expand on their EMT training at “Interns.” The Interns learn IVs, cardiac emergency pharmacology, ECG interpretation, and advance airway skills.

In order to come to IRECA, students try out for a place on a team. They fundraise in order to afford the trip. Once on a team, their first task is to pull together a set of equipment from the classroom’s supplies. Their team needs to find time to practice as a team with their equipment. They practice in the evening or during the day once the school year is done.

IRECA participants also put in time at events that help raise funds for the trip. From providing first aid at local 5k runs to writing letters to local business, students work to make it to IRECA. After IRECA is done, students will continue to staff events such as the USA Youth Soccer Cup or local county fairs.

Why do high school students go through all this to come to IRECA? For most of them, this is part of the training. When you provide emergency care to the public every day, you may not need this sort of training. But when it is new or is something you are periodically called on to use, training like this is essential. Emergency situations are chaotic and overwhelming. Training for, and participating in, the BLS challenge allows the students to lock those BLS basics into their heads so when they are in real situations it will come naturally. Like muscle memory, they will not have to think about the basics and they will be able to concentrate on the unique challenges of the given situation. Additionally, running scenario based challenges like those at IRECA, participates can be exposed to unusual situations that they don’t typically see.

Students that have participated in IRECA have gone on to start careers as police officers, nurses, firefighters, medics, surgery technicians, respiratory therapists, and cardiac rehabilitation therapists to name a few. Some have gone on to serve in the military. All these students have said that the scenario-based training they received and the challenges they participated in, helped prepare them for their careers. Scenarios make it real for the high school students. Scenarios make the learning relevant for the high school students. In the end, are adults that much different?