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EMS reaches out — in Spanish

OCEAN CITY — Del Baker, a firefighter-paramedic in Ocean City, arrived at the site of a rollover car accident last summer and discovered an increasingly common problem: None of the victims spoke or understood English.

Baker pulled out a new tool: EMSpanol — a manual that helps emergency responders communicate with Spanish-speaking victims, assess their injuries and begin early treatment.

“My Spanish is not good at all,” Baker said. “It’s a really great tool. We’ve had several manuals, but none that are this easy to use.”

The manual was developed by two local emergency responders: Jeff Dean, a career paramedic at the Berlin Fire Company, and Miguel Castanares, a career emergency medical technician at the Delmar Fire Company.

“I don’t speak Spanish, or I didn’t at the time,” Dean said. “In EMS we play for keeps. It’s life and death at times. … If we make a mistake, someone could die.”

He worried because he noticed that the population of Spanish speakers was growing, especially in the construction industry.

“There was a whole population of patients I wasn’t able to assess fully,” he said.

Dean said he didn’t really plan on co-writing a manual when he met Castanares in 2007. Instead, he asked Castanares, an Argentine-born U.S. citizen, to help him learn to speak Spanish.

Castanares started teaching Dean words and phrases but with the specialized words of emergency medicine.

Dean started writing down words and phrases such as: “Where do you hurt?”

Then, he’d ask Castanares: “How do you say ‘congestive heart failure’ in Spanish?”

“He didn’t know,” Dean said. “A lot of the terms we need to remember, we need once in a year.”

The two men and their families were eating dinner one night when Castanares’ wife suggested they write a book. Neither man took her seriously at first.

But then Dean said he bolted up in bed one night and said, “Why not?”

The men worked together to figure out what tools emergency workers need to assess, manage, comfort and direct Spanish-speaking patients. They began with two assumptions: The victim would speak no English and the responder would speak no Spanish.

The manual took them three years to write and perfect. It was released in February.

Baker said he also used the manual last summer to help a man at the Ocean City beach find his lost daughter.

The manual is designed for responders who speak little or no Spanish. The words and phrases are easy to say and can still be understood when they are mispronounced. In addition, there are pictures that can be used to help communicate when words fail.

“My Spanish is really bad,” said Zack Tyndall, an emergency responder with the Berlin Fire Company. “Before, we had to rely on a police officer to translate or the one or two Spanish-speaking emergency responders in the area.”

Tyndall said that sometimes it made it hard to do his job.

“It’s been a nice tool to have,” he said.

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