Instructor Carlos Tavarez, left, guides (NAME) through an intubation practice on Nov. 15.

For soon-to-be paramedics across the Florida Keys, an educational experience last week afforded a chance for real-world application, without the pressure of a life on the line.

From Key Largo to Key West, current EMTs in training for the upgraded certification, normally restricted to practice on dummies and simulated training tools, had the opportunity to hone their skills with a cadaver lab on Nov. 15.

It’s a chance that instructor and current Marathon Fire Rescue Capt. Joe Forcine said is “almost unheard of” before trainees enter the field under the supervision of other paramedics. Nonetheless, it’s a practice he hopes can continue for future generations of paramedics, even with hundreds of trainees already under his belt.

Working under the guidance of Forcine and instructor Carlos Tavarez through Southeastern Medical Academy, trainees made their way through skills and demonstrations, from less invasive procedures such as intubations all the way to chest tube placements, field amputations and even a surgical cricothyrotomy – that’s making an incision through a small membrane in the throat to place a tube and establish an emergency airway for a patient during life-threatening situations.

Instructor Carlos Tavarez, left, addresses paramedic trainees in an intubation practice session. Later in the day, trainees were given the unique opportunity to see skills and techniques applied to a cadaver.

It’s techniques like these, Forcine said, that make it so crucial to see skills applied on true human anatomy. The labs are also why the willingness of others to donate their bodies to these purposes can help save lives. 

In the case of the cricothyrotomy, the target area of incision may be around the width of a pen. “Cut too high, and the patient may never speak again,” he said. “Cut too low, and the hole may never heal.”

Following an initial session for trainees, current paramedics joined the classes later in the week for continuing education and practice opportunities.

Editor’s Note: Out of respect for the deceased, the Weekly did not photograph trainees’ practice with the cadaver.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.