Friday, May 27, 2022
HomeSafety and RescueKillingworth AmbulanceBriana’s Odyssey: “Zooming’ to Head of EMT Class from 2,500 Miles Away

Briana’s Odyssey: “Zooming’ to Head of EMT Class from 2,500 Miles Away

By Clark Judge.

With the gradual reopening of Connecticut, the Killingworth Ambulance Association has resumed EMT classes at its Route 81 headquarters. But while the course material hasn’t changed, the participants have.

Instructors Mike and Marguerite Haaga wear protective face masks. So do the students in attendance. And social distancing is emphasized. In fact, it’s enforced so strictly that one student isn’t even in the building.

Instructors Marguerite (L) and Mike Haaga (R) at the head of their EMT class, with Briana Lucarelli on the computer screen between them

She sits 2,500 miles away.

That would be Briana Lucarelli, 30, who grew up in Deep River, graduated from UConn and takes the class via Zoom from a ranger station in Powell, Id. Like the eight other students involved, Lucarelli began the EMT course in January, driving to Killingworth on Monday and Thursday nights, with occasional Saturdays mixed in.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and everything changed.

Classes ended at the KAA site in March. Instruction began via Zoom. And Lucarelli departed Connecticut, driving her 1995 Toyota Camry to Idaho, where she works half the year as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service – a seasonal job she began in 2019.

Her car has 222,000 miles on it. Lucarelli has almost as many in her post-college travels.

Though she majored in art (photography) at Storrs, with a minor in sociology, her interests since leaving school have veered in far-flung directions. Like Wyoming. And Utah. Colorado. Texas. Even New Zealand, where she spent five months hiking 1,900 miles.

“My heart was more in outdoor work after college,” Lucarelli said. “I think I kinda got burned out on art a bit. And after college I had more time.”


So she took advantage of it. She applied for a job at Yellowstone National Park and got it, working six months in the outdoor recreational field. Then she moved to Utah where she worked two months at a ski resort. From there, it was down to Texas and two-and-half-years with the Texas Conservation Corps.

After that, it was six months in Colorado. Then, five months in New Zealand where she and friends hiked the Te Araroa trail spanning the north and south islands.

“Toward the end of college,” she said, “I realized this is what I wanted to do. My idea was to get out and see the country, and the best way to do that was to take a job there rather than take a vacation there and get to know it as a tourist.

“It’s really simple. I just pack up my car – all my belongings can fit in it – and I drive somewhere. It’s really comforting. Because all my jobs are spring, summer and fall, the winter is really my off time.”

For that reason, this winter she tried something different. She returned to Connecticut.

“I’d been away long enough,” she said, “and I just felt it was time to spend a winter season home … just for family.”

Not surprisingly, she couldn’t sit still. Hearing about the EMT course in Killingworth, she enrolled in January and the rest you know … except, perhaps, why she wants to become a first responder.

“I always thought I’d be good at it,” she said. “It’s something I always wanted to. In the back of my head I wanted to further my medical education by furthering my skills.”

And that’s precisely what’s happening. On a recent Thursday night, Lucarelli was there on Mike Haaga’s 13-inch Dell laptop that rested on a table at the head of the class. She wore headphones. She did not wear a mask. In front of her were seven classmates — four in one row, three in the other. To either side were the Haagas, each asking students if they needed clarifications for a 150-question practice quiz they’d taken.

Lucarelli did. In fact, she needed a litany of them.

“I was wondering about number 10,” she said.

Question: You are on the scene of a 22-year-old female patient who is unresponsive. The patient’s mother states that she is deathly allergic to peanuts and accidentally ate stir fry cooked in peanut oil. The patient is unresponsive, with agonal respirations at six per minute. You insert an oral airway and administer oxygen at 15 liters per minute by bag-valve mask. You notice that it is difficult to bag the patient. Your partner listens to lung sounds and states they are very diminished in the upper fields and absent in the lower fields. What is the best action?


“Well, I think it’s D,” said Lucarelli. “But I’m not sure if that’s correct.”

It was.

Answer: D) Request orders from medical control to administer epinephrine.

“Briana, you have more?” Mike Haaga asked.

She did, though she said she was having trouble with the audio. So Haaga turned off a fan in a corner of the room, turned up the volume on his laptop and swerved the computer to face him.

“That better?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said.

At that point Haaga discovered the source of the problem: His mic was off. So he made the adjustment, Lucarelli was satisfied and the class resumed. Consider it a minor glitch. Lucarelli once lost contact six times during a class but reconnected and got through that, too.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do Zoom,” she said later. ”Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to finish the class.”

When all questions were answered – and there were over 25 – the Haagas divided the class, with Mike taking four students downstairs to an ambulance bay, while Marguerite kept the others – including Lucarelli – in the upstairs classroom for hands-on demonstrations like CPR and AEDs.

“Briana can go anywhere,” one student told me. “Once, we put her in an ambulance.”

Wait. What?

“We were teaching students how to use the stretcher on an ambulance,” said Mike Haaga. “What we do is put one student on it and have another load it so you can find out what it feels like. That’s when one of the students said, ‘Let’s load Briana.’ So we put the laptop on a stretcher, and someone loaded her in. Everybody was laughing.”

Like the rest of the class, Lucarelli will take a written test on June 22. Unlike the rest of the class, she won’t be able to perform the practical – or hands-on — exam until returning home in the fall. Then comes a national final, taken at her convenience.

What a long, strange trip it will have been.

“Part of the reason I’m interested in becoming an EMT is that I can’t do physical-labor jobs forever,” Lucarelli said. “So I wanted to have another life skill, either for my career or to enhance the job I’m doing. Helping others and leading others just makes me feel good. It gives me a purpose in life, and being an EMT is just another example of that.

“But I really have to give props to Mike and Marguerite. They are fantastic teachers, and they’re part of the reason why the class is going so well. They really care about the students learning information. They have a lot of experience and hand down that knowledge easily. If I had taken this in college that might not have been the case – which is one reason I’m so committed to it. I’m really lucky to be doing this with the KAA.”

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