Hospital develops new training program for EMTs to help treat children

In a medical emergency, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Boston Children's Hospital is teaming up with Boston Emergency Medical Services to make sure emergency medical technicians are prepared to handle pediatric cases in the field.

The hospital has developed a new program in which EMTs run through pediatric simulations as an emergency doctor monitors the care they provide.

The program is modeled after one at Texas Children’s Hospital, which saw a marked improvement in the condition of children arriving at the emergency room.

Boston EMTs Beth Rimas and Lee Alexander participated in a drill in which a small infant boy was suffering from a seizure, and they both acknowledged that dealing with children can provide unique challenges.

“It’s just hard to evaluate a child," Rimas said. "Just the area of their chest is so small."

Alexander added that communication is a big difference when it comes to treating children.

"Infants and toddlers have a difficult time, or are unable to communicate what they are feeling, other than crying or grunting, things like that," Alexander said.

The vast majority of emergency medical calls in Boston involve older people; only 7 percent involve a child.

The concern is EMTs might not be as comfortable handling those cases when they do get them because of their infrequency.

“The care of a child in their home and on their way to the hospital can literally be lifesaving,” said Dr. Caitlin Farrell, an emergency room physician at Children’s. "Children can have a lot more complications from even something like a seizure or asthma, having to manage a child’s airway is very different from managing an adult’s airway.”

After the simulation on a mannequin, the EMTs reviewed their response with another emergency room doctor. Both Rimas and Alexander found the discussion to be valuable.

>>RELATED: New study says physician burnout is becoming major problem

The hands-on training is a big improvement from how Boston EMS has trained staff in the past, according to superintendent Jack Pearsull.

“They actually enjoy it, versus the old school training where you'd sit behind a desk and look at a PowerPoint," Pearsull said. "Here they are engaged. They are given a scenario and they have to work like they work out in the street.”

Children’s was able to develop these training sessions as the result of an anonymous donation.

>> '24/7 Respect Week' teaching students to stay safe, respectful in the digital age