Summer 2008: Campus Beat

Students in the EMS office

At the ready: From left, Chris Meshberger 09C and chief Kevin Smith 09C await their next call in the Emory EMS office on North Decatur Road.

Bryan Meltz

Student getting in EMS vehicle

Students on Call

The all-volunteer staff of Emory EMS responds rapidly to campus emergencies

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By Beverly Clark

Commencement serves as the last day of work for the student volunteers who staff Emory Emergency Medical Services. But, due to the thousands of visitors on campus, it’s usually a demanding day as well. “With this many people, statistically you’re going to have a certain number of incidents,” said Emory EMS chief Kevin Smith 09C, a senior in marketing, as he sat in uniform under a tent set up near the Quadrangle during the University ceremony. “We’ve had a few calls already this morning, and there will probably be a few more.”

No less than an hour later, Smith was en route to the School of Public Health ceremony, where a woman in the audience had collapsed. As her family watched anxiously, he and a fellow student volunteer helped to lift her gently onto a stretcher and into a waiting ambulance.

The student-run, volunteer force of forty provides EMS coverage for campus as a unit of the Emory Police Department. All of the student volunteers are certified EMT professionals who complete a yearlong class of 260-plus hours of training beyond the two hundred hours required by the state.

“There really is no typical student that signs up for Emory EMS,” said Daniel Sperling 10C, a junior sociology major and incoming chief of operations. “The individuals that we look for are anyone with the drive and enthusiasm to give 110 percent.”

Two-person teams work around the clock on eight-hour shifts. Supervisors are on call in twenty-four-hour shifts and often put in forty hours a week or more. During special events, such as in late October when the XIV Dalai Lama was at Emory, time spent on duty increases exponentially.

“The volunteerism on this unit speaks volumes of the character of our medics and their unconditional devotion to Emory’s well-being and safety,” said past Emory EMS chief Josh Rozell 08C, who graduated in May with a degree in neuroscience.

Unlike Commencement, most days are quiet, with a call or two per shift. Downtime is spent in the group’s headquarters, a converted office in the North Decatur Building. But when the call comes, the adrenaline flows and all energy is focused on getting to and helping a patient in need.

“You never know exactly what the situation will be like until you get there,” said Smith during an April shift that involved a car accident with minor injuries. “You don’t want it to be a bad situation, but if it is, you know that you have the ability to make a difference.”

Last fall, Emory EMS responded to 351 calls, with an average response time of three and a half minutes. The unit’s territory includes the Emory campus and adjacent businesses and roads. Recently the unit responded to a call in less than two minutes and provided life-saving medication to a staff member having a severe allergic reaction. In another case, medics stabilized a staff member having a heart attack.

“Being here, right on campus, allows us to get to patients when they need it most, especially during the critical ‘golden hour.’ In some cases, it really is a life-or-death situation,” said Dan Hootman 08C, assistant director for emergency preparedness, who graduated with a dual degree in organization and management and economics.

There are fewer than a hundred such student-run EMS units at colleges around the country, and Emory’s is among the best in the nation, says Emory Police Captain Ray Edge, administrator to the unit. Roger Neustadt was the founding director of the EMS/Emory First Responder Unit in 1992. “If it were not for Roger’s passion and persistence, there would be no EEMS today,” says Edge.

Sarah Zeff Aschkenasi 96C was part of Emory First Responders from 1992 to 1996 and went on to attend Harvard Medical School. “I’m a pediatrician at Washington University in St. Louis, and my experience opened many doors for me, in terms of getting into medical school and residency, but more importantly, in practical ways,” she says. “Many of the skills I learned at Emory are ones I still use today . . . in not being afraid to face unfamiliar situations.”

During the recent National Collegiate EMS Foundation conference, Emory EMS was honored with the top “Striving for Excellence Award” and best campus video of the year. Emory EMS also does extensive community outreach. The group hosted the largest single-venue CPR training event in the country last fall for more than six hundred people. They provided alcohol awareness education for fellow students and recently organized a drunk-driving demonstration for Druid Hills High School. Also, they will cosponsor this year’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

“They exhibit a level of dedication rarely seen in the workplace—and they do so as volunteers,” said Emory Police Chief Craig Watson. “They are a critical part of Emory’s public safety.”

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