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School’s in Session: Inside College-Based EMS Services

Returning to college in the fall brings thoughts of football games, frat parties, and classes, not where help is coming from should someone suffer an injury or medical emergency on campus. At many colleges those emergency medical services are provided by a group of students whose goal is to give expeditious and quality care to schoolmates, faculty, and visitors in need. Their members are mostly volunteer and range in age from 17–25. In most cases these same students are EMS providers, officers, and administrators for their ambulance units, providing opportunities for leadership, service, and camaraderie on campuses across the nation. This article profiles four college-based EMS units around the country.

Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.

Founded in 1983, the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (known on campus as BEMCO) provides EMT first responder service to Brandeis, a private university of approximately 6,000 students outside Boston. According to Benjamin Merker, a corps director and senior majoring in politics and economics, BEMCO has about 60 members this year and responds in two fully equipped SUVs to more than 350 calls a year.

“We send 2–4 EMTs to each call and deliver a high quality of care to all of our patients,”Merker says. “We feel we run intense calls with ease, and as a result there’s a lot of interest in our group and a high level of trust from the campus.” According to Merker BEMCO has an average response time of 2–4 minutes.

BEMCO is dispatched by the Brandeis University Police Department via pager and is in service 24 hours a day when the university is in session. As a Class V-certified Massachusetts service, it carries medications such as Narcan, aspirin, and epinephrine in addition to a full complement of BLS gear.

BEMCO does not bill for services, and EMS transport is provided by an outside service. Its annual budget is funded by the student union with assistance from campus public safety and the university health clinic. While there is high interest in BEMCO, challenges to corps leadership include getting volunteers to commit to running 24-hour shifts and moving EMTs quickly through the ranks to crew chief and administration. This is a challenge to many college EMS units, as they typically only have their members for 2–4 years.

Regardless, Merker says he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “I get to see a lot of interesting cases you wouldn’t think would happen on a college campus, and the teamwork is always amazing,” he says.

Five Quad Volunteer Ambulance Service, University at Albany, N.Y.

Also located in the northeast is the Five Quad Volunteer Ambulance Service, which provides BLS service to the State University of New York at Albany, a state school of 18,000 students. Founded in 1973 by students who saw a need for speedier EMS service, Five Quad celebrates its 45th anniversary this year.

Five Quad has about 80 members, most of whom are New York-certified EMTs, and runs two state-certified BLS ambulances and a supervisor vehicle. It’s in service 24 hours a day while the university is in session. Dispatched via radio by the university police department, Five Quad responds to more than 500 calls a year for staff and students on campus and within a five-mile radius. It also provides mutual aid to the local suburbs of Guilderland and Colonie as well as standby services for the school’s athletic teams.

According to Amanda Kimmler, a recently graduated Five Quad member and vice president, Five Quad responds to a variety of calls on campus, from medical to trauma to mental health. “Five Quad focuses a lot on training,” she says. “We start our process with members-in-training, and they advance to EMT class, then begin riding as fourth members of the crew. Over time and with plenty of mentoring, they eventually progress to drivers and crew chiefs. We take so much pride in what we do.”

Five Quad provides BLS response and transport, and ALS is provided as needed by the Albany Fire Department. “There is great mutual respect between the AFD and Five Quad,” says Kimmler. Five Quad is all volunteer and funded via a mandatory student activity fee in the tuition bill. Its budget is around $100,000 a year.

There are many challenges. They include balancing studies and a commitment for shift coverage, a four-year personnel turnover rate, and the need to train leaders quickly. Still, “It changed my life,” says Kimmler. “I fell in love with healthcare. I found my friends there. What other club lets you help people and have a lot of fun while doing it?”

Rice EMS, Rice University, Houston

In 1996 a group of students saw a need to provide first responder service on the campus of Rice University, a private university of 7,000 students in Houston. After several meetings with university administration, Rice EMS was formed.

According to service director Lisa Basgall, there are 96 members staffing two Chevy Tahoes and four golf carts to provide ALS first response to the campus. Student-based ALS services are a rarity in college EMS. “Most of our providers are AEMTs, and we carry meds for anaphylaxis, overdose, hypoglycemia, and cardiac resuscitation,” Basgall says.

In addition to providing EMS coverage for the campus, Rice EMS provides community education (CPR and first aid certification), special event and athletics coverage, and EMT and Advanced EMT certification courses for students, faculty, and staff.

Rice EMS is dispatched by the Rice University Police Department on campus and responds to 650 calls annually. “REMS provides an opportunity for students to learn skills in the classroom as part of their undergraduate education and apply them in a meaningful way as emergency responders on campus,” says Basgall. “Being on duty to help their peers, professors, and campus visitors when they have a medical or traumatic emergency is a personal way to take an active role in campus life. Last year during Hurricane Harvey, this small but dedicated group of responders spent many hours on duty to help manage the needs of the campus. In October 2018 Rice EMS sent a team to teach a first responder course at the U.S. Consulate General in São Paulo, Brazil. This pool of dedicated undergraduates, committed alumni, part-time staff, and the physician leadership team, working together for a common mission, makes all of this possible.”

Rice EMS is funded through student health fees and other university funds. Other challenges it faces include the four-year membership turnover while maintaining clinical excellence.

Basgall is a full-time EMS director for the student volunteers in addition to being a paramedic and instructor on campus. She says working with students who are new to medicine, have never encountered an emergency, or haven’t had the chance to put classroom excellence to practical use is rewarding. “I have an opportunity to mentor student leaders who teach their peers how to work with a team, make a plan and follow through, and balance their own academic pursuits with time dedicated to EMS,” she says. “It’s the best job ever!”

Santa Clara University EMS, Santa Clara, Calif.

At Santa Clara University golf carts on campus don’t mean someone’s lost on the back nine. Instead, when one of the school’s 9,500 students has a medical emergency, Santa Clara EMS (SCEMS) responds on foot and by golf cart. Santa Clara EMTs are dispatched through the university’s emergency hotline; campus security receives a 9-1-1 call and notifies SCEMS via cell phone, and they respond to the scene.

Founded in 1997, SCEMS consists of approximately 40 EMTs who are mentored by three advisors: a physician, a nurse, and a physician assistant. According to Annie Martin, a senior at Santa Clara and the public relations officer for SCEMS, the squad responds to around 250 calls a year that range from twisted ankles to serious cardiac events. “There are innumerable benefits that come with having EMS on a college campus,” Martin says. “In my experience, EMS at Santa Clara University has improved the quality of life not only on our campus but also in the community around us. For instance, county emergency services aren’t dispatched to our campus every time there’s an issue because the collegiate EMTs on duty are often able to address the situation.”

Recruitment is done on campus, and SCEMS consists solely of undergraduate students. They obtain their EMT training at a class offered through Foothill College. According to Martin, SCU EMTs are committed to providing the highest-quality medical care to their patients due to relationships. “Our patients can very likely be our friends, a professor, or members of the community we see around campus,” she says. “This motivates us to attend biweekly training sessions, host call debriefs, and have events such as mock mass-casualty incidents to improve our skills and quality of care. Our passion is one of our greatest strengths.”

Each golf cart is equipped with a full complement of BLS gear, and the Santa Clara Fire Department is contacted if paramedics or transport is required.

Final Thoughts

While these student squads may be separated by distance, they have a lot in common. With a shared commitment to service, pride in their organizations, respect from their campus communities, and a dedication to quality care, the student members of college EMS agencies have a unique connection.

Santa Clara’s Martin describes that bond well: “I am fortunate enough to have 15-hour shifts with people who inspire me, motivate me, and understand me. We learn quickly to trust each other in high-stress situations and ask for help when it’s wanted and criticism when it’s needed. Collegiate EMS, like anything related to emergency medicine, is unpredictable, but I know I can rely on the dependability and constancy of my friends. A special bond is made between people who respond to medical emergencies together!”

Barry A. Bachenheimer, EdD, FF/EMT, is a career educator and university professor, as well as a firefighter and member of the technical-rescue team with the Roseland (N.J.) Fire Department and an EMT with the South Orange (N.J.) Rescue Squad. With an emergency services career of more than 30 years, he frequently serves as an instructor for both departments. He is also co-owner of Jump Bag Training Company, LLC. Reach him at barry@jumpbagtraining.com.

 

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