November 5, 2007

Cornell EMTs Suit Up for a Safer Campus

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As the saying goes at Cornell University Emergency Medical Services, “Your worst hour is our best hour.”
“It’s never that we want someone to get hurt; we just want to be there to help them,” said Emergency Medical Technician Andy Lazar ’10 in explaining his group’s catchphrase.
Lazar is one of CUEMS’s 80 EMTs who volunteer their time to help injured or sick people on campus. On nights and weekends there are always at least three EMTs on call and at least one or two on weekdays. In addition, CUEMS members can be requested to cover events such as concerts and club sport matches.
CUEMS is dispatched by the Cornell University Police Department when the CUPD receives 911 calls from campus. On any given day, CUEMS receives as many as 10 calls to help people with problems ranging from asthma and allergy attacks to motor vehicle accidents and alcohol intoxication.
CUEMS Director Alec Johnson ’08 and Lazar want students to know that CUEMS “is not there to get students in trouble. We are there to give people the best possible treatment.”
The EMTs note that there is no such thing as a typical shift. CUEMS may get four calls on a Tuesday morning and none on a Saturday night. EMTs who happen not to receive many calls during their shift are known as “white clouds.”
All CUEMS members must be connected to the Cornell community, and range from undergraduates studying subjects as diverse as hotel administration, government and economics, to graduate students, professors and staff. Upon joining the squad, those who are not already certified EMTs receive New York State certified EMT training, which can be completed through the Cornell Physical Education department.
CUEMS members must serve for at least 40 hours per semester, although EMT Alina O’Brien ’10 said that many EMTs greatly exceed the service requirement. EMTs serving night shifts sleep at the CUEMS headquarters near the Veterinary School and often respond to calls in the middle of the night, a process that, according to Johnson, “wakes you up very quickly.”
Johnson called his time with CUEMS a way to help out “during people’s most desperate hours.”
O’Brien added that being a member of CUEMS is “a great learning opportunity because they really emphasize the teaching and ease you into it.”
New members are known as trainees; they are able to become as involved in a call as they want in order to learn. Upon arrival at the scene, it is typically their job to take the patient’s vital demographics.
Each trainee responds to calls with an attendant and a crew chief, one of who must be specially certified to drive the specially equipped CUEMS suburban. The attendant and crew chief ask questions at the scene to determine the situation and decide how best to treat the patient.
According to Johnson, CUEMS “provides an interim level of care by treating and stabilizing patients.”
In the event that someone needs to be taken to the hospital, the EMTs will either drive the patient themselves or prepare the patient for an ambulance transport.
Because the CUEMS headquarters are located on campus and the CUEMS van often patrols campus at night, CUEMS typically responds to calls in about one minute, or about 10 minutes before an ambulance will arrive.
Often, during emergencies, CUEMS will already have assessed a patient by the time the ambulance arrives, so the patient is ready to go immediately to the hospital.
These steps help “speed up the process” of getting someone in critical condition to the hospital, said Lazar.
CUEMS is run completely by student volunteers. The group receives funding from the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Assemblies to cover the costs of equipment and training since patients do not pay for CUEMS’s services. Individual EMTs do not get paid for their time. Instead, said O’Brien and Lazar, EMTs volunteer in order to “give back to the Cornell community.”