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Air Force emergency medical technicians from the 35th Medical Group, Misawa Air Base, Japan, check vital signs of a simulated accident victim in the 65-degree waters of Lake Ogawara Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo.

Air Force emergency medical technicians from the 35th Medical Group, Misawa Air Base, Japan, check vital signs of a simulated accident victim in the 65-degree waters of Lake Ogawara Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Air Force emergency medical technicians from the 35th Medical Group, Misawa Air Base, Japan, check vital signs of a simulated accident victim in the 65-degree waters of Lake Ogawara Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo.

Air Force emergency medical technicians from the 35th Medical Group, Misawa Air Base, Japan, check vital signs of a simulated accident victim in the 65-degree waters of Lake Ogawara Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

Airman Debra Hans, a medical service apprentice, guides simulated water accident victim Dexter Webb to safety Thursday in the water rescue competition during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Airman Debra Hans, a medical service apprentice, guides simulated water accident victim Dexter Webb to safety Thursday in the water rescue competition during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

A Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force medical technician stabilizes the head of a simulated bus accident victim Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Six military teams competed against the clock tending to simulated victims.

A Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force medical technician stabilizes the head of a simulated bus accident victim Thursday during the Pacific Command EMT Rodeo at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Six military teams competed against the clock tending to simulated victims. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Drowning in the base lake here was easy for Staff Sgt. Rafael Melendez. He did it half a dozen times Thursday, in Lake Ogawara’s 65-degree waters.

Thanks to a diver’s wet suit and the speed of six teams of medical technicians competing in the 8th annual Pacific Command EMT Rodeo, mock drowning victim Melendez survived to swim another day.

He was one of two simulated victims of a personal watercraft accident, a mini-drama played out in a heavy fog so American and Japanese EMT teams could showcase their medical mettle racing against the clock.

“It’s like the Top Gun award for EMTs,” said Master Sgt. Rick Nitsche, training noncommissioned officer with Misawa’s 35th Medical Group, describing the competition. “The one who comes out on top has bragging rights.”

Nitsche said funding constraints and military commitments that kept teams representing South Korea, Guam and mainland Japan from attending reduced the number of entries this year.

Misawa fielded two teams. The four-time defending champions, a Navy entry from Okinawa’s Camp Lester Naval Hospital, rounded out the American contingents.

Three Japanese EMT teams competed, including Misawa’s Japan Air Self-Defense Force, a combined Japan Maritime Self- Defense Force team from northern Japan’s Ominato Base and a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force entry from Camp Makiminato in Hokkaido.

Nitsche said teams were graded on how well they evaluated injuries, managed their time and were able to triage, or sort victims by seriousness of injury, in three scenarios: one involving mass casualties, a second requiring a water rescue and a third entailing navigating an obstacle course carrying a litter.

Airman Karl Salyer, co-captain of Misawa’s EMT team, said he was pleased with his group’s water rescue performance despite exceeding the 20-minute time limit.

Team members had to wade in to chest-deep water to reach Melendez, check his vital signs, then lash him to a floating litter and get him onto a dock.

“There was some pressure ... working against the clock, but you forget about it when you’re saving a life,” he said. “At least we got our boots wet; it was really good training.”

Unraveling spider straps used to secure a patient to a litter was difficult for Senior Airman Carton Jones, the team’s leader.

“It was the first time we had to use that type of strap, so it was very hard ... but a good learning for all of us,” he said.

Capt. Dan Robert, a physiologist who advised other team members of “victims’” medical conditions, such as respiration rates and skin conditions, said the competition was made as realistic as possible — “and some of them learned they could do better in some areas.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Norikazu Moriwaki of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force team, a first-time competitor, said he was nervous but “our team worked very well. ... I have never had to do this for real, and we saw areas where we need improvement.”

But the team extracted their victim from the lake, carried him ashore and treated a second victim, all in 10 minutes and 23 seconds.

Final standings of the EMT Rodeo were not available at press time but several miles away on the main base, 10 more “victims” also moaned and groaned following a bus’ simulated collision with a fuel truck.

Students portraying the injured also put their hearts into their acting roles.

“I had to react like I was crazy,” said Liz Strickland, 16, who enjoys drama classes when Misawa’s Edgren High School is in session.

She had to be tackled three times by medical personnel as she mimicked a crazed accident victim, and had a real bruise on her left shoulder to show for her trouble.

“I think I flipped the medic once, too,” she said. “I really get into doing this stuff.”

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