A look inside the ambulance

Volunteer Brunonians help EMS run

Monday, November 13, 2006

When students call on Emergency Medical Services for help, they may not realize that the uniformed responders who come to their aid are fellow Brunonians.

Volunteers – 60 students and 16 community members – assist EMS on ambulance runs, said Richard Lapierre, manager of EMS and coordinator of the volunteer Emergency Medical Technician program.

More than an extra set of hands, these volunteers “allow EMS to run,” he said. EMS’ five professional staffers cannot fully staff all of the EMS shifts because two licensed EMTs are required by law to be in the ambulance at all times.

A four-person crew staffs each ambulance run, including one professional EMS staffer, one licensed EMT volunteer and two “ride-alongs,” who assist the trained EMTs by carrying equipment, setting up stretchers and driving the ambulance.

Student EMTs do “everything a basic EMT might do anywhere,” said Beth Hoffman ’07. A licensed EMT, Hoffman said her duties can include making hospital transports and tending to a range of medical issues, from sports injuries to heart attacks.

“It is a common misperception that all we deal with are alcohol-related calls,” Hoffman said. “Our most common calls are most likely sports-related injuries.”

Volunteers, whether students or community members, commit to work either one five-hour daytime shift each week or one 14-hour shift on a night or weekend every other week.

“It’s a big commitment,” said Hoffman, who works from 6 p.m. Friday nights until 8 a.m. Saturday mornings.

During a night shift, Hoffman and other EMS volunteers wait for emergency calls in the basement of Andrews House, where Health Services is located. During their shifts, student volunteers are allowed to sleep, do homework and go to class with the understanding that they will leave as soon as an emergency call comes in.

All emergency calls are received by the Department of Public Safety dispatch center in Faunce House. DPS workers then determine whether the situation warrants emergency medical assistance and alert EMS accordingly.

EMT Christin Giordano ’07 said volunteers are typically dispatched five times on her shifts, though this number varies. “When we get radioed from DPS, we head to wherever they tell us to go,” she said.

EMS relies on student EMTs to operate, but volunteering is also an “important educational experience,” Lapierre said. He added that while the student volunteers may be inexperienced, involving them in the emergency calls does not pose additional risk. “They are working under a licensed supervisor,” he said.

In addition to the hands-on experience of volunteering on EMS calls, the University offers students several EMT training opportunities, including a summer certification course that costs Brown students $850. After completing the course, which consists of lectures and practical labs, students have to pass both practical and written exams to get Rhode Island certification as a basic EMT.

Brown also offers continuing education programs for current EMTs to refresh their existing skills and learn new ones. In the fall semester, Brown also offers an EMT cardiac course to teach student EMTs more advanced skills than those taught in the basic EMT summer class.

Many student EMT volunteers said they plan to pursue health-related careers, but Giordano said there are many reasons for students to volunteer as an EMT.

“We have English majors, grad students … and members of the community involved,” she said. “Not everyone is pre-med or going into health professions.”

But Hoffman, who hopes to attend medical school, said she has gained skills and experience through the program that will help her after graduation.

“I have learned things (through being an EMT) that I am not going to learn until the second year of medical school,” Hoffman said.

The program’s educational aspect is an important motivation for many student volunteers, not necessarily because of the practical experience it offers.

“The EMT experience in general taught me how to interact with people in distress, and how best to calm them (and) make them feel better, if not necessarily physically then emotionally,” said EMT Scott Bolton ’07.

“It is a great experience and I love it, but it’s not fair to yourself or the patients you have an obligation to if you’re not really dedicated to being an EMT,” he said.

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