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Back to School: Another Look at College-Based ALS and BLS Units

When students start or return to classes in the fall, an unexpected accident, illness, or injury may become part of their college experience. If this happens, they will go to a campus health center or call 9-1-1.

While many local EMS systems, fire departments, and ambulance services have colleges within their response areas, a growing number of campuses also have student-run services that provide EMS to their fellow students, faculty, and university guests. According to the National Collegiate EMS Foundation, an umbrella organization for college EMS founded in 1993, there are more than 250 college-based EMS units in the United States, ranging from standby groups with jump bags to ALS services with multiple ambulances. This article profiles six of them.

Tulane University EMS, Tulane University, New Orleans, La.

With a call volume of more than 550 a year, Tulane University EMS and its two ambulances are busy keeping the students and staff at this New Orleans university safe. According to Administrative Capt. Cade Herman, they have 54 members, 44 of whom are certified EMTs. They recruit new members each year through an application process and provide NREMT training to those who are not certified. 

Dispatched by university police as part of their emergency system, the Tulane unit operates at a BLS level, but the medical director who supervises it allows crews to carry epinephrine, naloxone, aspirin, and albuterol. They are funded through student health services, which charges all students an annual fee through their tuition to fund campus healthcare. 

According to Herman there are many strengths to the organization. “Most of us enter this organization with little to no experience or knowledge about EMS,” he says. “Through the learning curve we find our way together, spending countless hours training on each other and then working with real patients. As we grow we begin to train our fellow members both on and off calls, reinforcing our skills and relationships. This student-led learning component is what is most valuable to me because it fosters personal growth that extends beyond membership in the organization and facilitates the close bond that makes us one of the most tightly knit groups on campus.”

Longhorn EMS, University of Texas, Austin, Tex.

Even though the large Austin-Travis County EMS system provides 9-1-1 response to the bustling Austin campus, the Longhorn EMS group is a growing presence. Founded in 2005, Longhorn EMS is a Texas-recognized first responder agency consisting of 70 members who provide medical standby for campus events and non-NCAA athletic events such as the annual Longhorn Run and Austin City Limits Music Festival. 

According to senior bio-chem major and Chief Ksenia Vlassova, Longhorn EMS staffs about 30 events a year and averages five “treats” per event. Longhorn EMS does not have any vehicles, but members carry jump bags and medical gear funded by the student association. About 40 members are EMTs. 

While Longhorn EMS may lack a vehicle and 9-1-1 responses, it is active in campus events. Vlassova says the group is very busy teaching Stop the Bleed and CPR classes on campus. Longhorn EMS also staffs a unique service at the university: a sobering center. When students are caught publicly intoxicated, the Sobering Center of Austin can provide a safe place to sleep it off as an alternative to the emergency room or jail. Longhorn EMS partners with the Austin Sobriety Center to provide personnel for the center’s day-to-day operations. LEMS members work in the facility performing triage, patient monitoring, counseling, and discharge.

RIT Ambulance, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y.

Using a 2013 Type III BLS ambulance and 2011 Chevy Tahoe fly car, RIT Ambulance at the Rochester Institute of Technology responds to 600–1,000 calls per year. “Being a college ambulance, we see a lot of quick turnover,” says Chief of Operations Lyndsey Allison. “With most people only staying 4–5 years to finish their degree, we spend a lot of time training people to get them on the road for only a short time, then going back and training more new people.” 

Regardless of this challenge, RIT Ambulance fields a solid group of 50 active members, over 30 of whom are New York EMTs. The service operates at the BLS level but carries six medications—oral glucose, aspirin, oxygen, albuterol, Narcan, and syringe epinephrine—under New York BLS collaborative protocols. RIT Ambulance is mainly funded by the university through a health fee all students pay. Some funds are generated through providing standby at large campus events. 

While RIT has many students focused on the STEM fields, this hasn’t affected membership, according to Allison. “We are lucky to have members from all different backgrounds,” she says. “We’re not just all the premed students; we also have computer majors, business majors, environmental health and safety majors, all of whom bring something to help the organization. For example, we get comp-sci majors who join, and then they write amazing computer programs for us!”

University Volunteer Ambulance Corps, University of Maine, Orono, Maine

If you call 9-1-1 at the University of Maine, there’s a strong chance you’ll get one of the University Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ two ALS ambulances, each stocked with a cardiac monitor and ALS medications and staffed by EMTs and paramedics. Using a 2017 Ford Type III, a 2013 Mercedes diesel ambulance, and a 2008 Toyota Camry chase car, the service responds to 430 calls a year. 

According to Assistant Chief of Relations Connor Gilson, typical calls are drug/alcohol-related on weekends, along with falls and diabetics. There is strong interest in the organization, and each semester it conducts events to recruit new volunteers. The organization currently has 70 members. One added benefit, according to Gilson, is an EMT class offered in their quarters on campus through a local community college. 

The agency bills for transport, and those funds are given to the university, which in turn provides funding to UVAC. The group is staffed by volunteers who, according to Gilson, have a great deal of camaraderie and are “like a family or fraternity.”

CWRU EMS, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

Could you fund a three-vehicle ambulance corps that runs more than 700 calls a year with a little over $12,000? Case Western Reserve University EMS does. According to Chief Clare Beidelman, the 100 members of her group “are extremely passionate about what they do and put in a lot of hours to keep us running. 

“We have a great EMT class, and our agency is constantly looking to improve and adapt for the better,” she says. “We also have a rigorous training system that keeps our EMTs up on protocols and skills.” 

This BLS service with a medical director carries epi, DuoNeb, aspirin, nitroglycerin, glucose, and Narcan. While all volunteer, the service is only 18 hours short of providing 24/7 coverage of the campus. That’s a goal it’s working on, according to Beidelman. Cleveland EMS provides backup transport service and is also the campus ALS provider. 

College EMS provides students with leadership and learning opportunities that wouldn’t ordinarily be found in classes on campus. “The best part for me,” says Beidelman, “has been learning how to lead and operate on a team. I have also met a lot of good friends here that have made the long hours worthwhile.” 

UMEMS, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.

According to EMS team manager and paramedic Robert Ball, one of the strengths of the University of Minnesota EMS is the positive energy of its volunteers. “They have a true spirit of giving back to their university community,” Ball says. “Many of them are health-science undergraduate students and bring that desire to learn to UMEMS as well.” 

The primary role of UMEMS is special-event EMS, and it provides services for about 350–400 events per year, with an overall call volume of about 400 patients. Most work is done in UMEMS-staffed first aid rooms at events. Because of this UMEMS’s medical director authorizes dispensing (not administering) acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and diphenhydramine to adults requesting those and meeting specific criteria. 

The organization has two Type III ambulances for BLS transport (or as mobile first aid sites). One is a 2015 Braun Express, one a 2003 Road Rescue. For on-site patient movement UMEMS also has a John Deere Gator with transport package. 

UMEMS consists of 75 active volunteer EMTs, one full-time manager, four part-time paid personnel, and one paid part-time student. It is funded through user fees (events requesting service pay for it), as well as EMS tuition fees, which also fund the AED program on campus. 

Camaraderie and Energy

While these college-based EMS units vary by capabilities, staffing, budget, and geography, they have several commonalities. In most college EMS units, there is a camaraderie and energy one may not see in municipal EMS. Further, because most members are 18–22, students have to work much harder and train better to be taken more seriously by outside EMS agencies and even perhaps their university. 

Because of this, campus-based EMS services are typically staffed by highly motivated, intelligent, and well-trained providers. Because they also balance a full academic load in addition to their EMS duties, students learn how to manage time and multitask effectively. 

While they face time and budgetary challenges, students provide a valuable service to their schools. 

Barry A. Bachenheimer, EdD, FF/EMT, is a frequent contributor to EMS World. He is a career educator and university professor. Active in EMS since 1986, he is currently a firefighter with the Roseland (N.J.) Fire Department and an EMT with the South Orange (N.J.) Rescue Squad.

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