It’s a normal Thursday evening in Higgins Hall. Students come and go quietly from their biology and physics labs before heading to the library or home for the evening. But it’s training time for Boston College Emergency Medical Services (BCEMS) student volunteers. Some 20 undergraduates are taking part in simulated “tailgating and alcohol” exercises in Higgins, getting ready for duty in an EMS tent during upcoming BC football games.
Finnerty ’18 is choking. A friend calls 911. By the time Mansoo Kim ’16, Emily Egnor ’16, and Stephen Cheng ’16 arrive on the scene, Finnerty has passed out. Chang removes a “chicken wing” from her throat, and Kim performs textbook cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Egnor checks Finnerty’s other vitals, then asks if she knows the date and the name of the U.S. president. When she regains her faculties, Finnerty leans forward to inspect Egnor’s treatment checklist. “Pretty good,” she says. “But you should have put me on an O2 canister immediately.”
Boston College students formed BCEMS in 1997, a few months after freshman Kevin Eidt ’00 died of a cardiac arrest during an intramural basketball game on campus in January of that year. Today, it is an entirely student-run ambulance company registered with the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services.
Some 82 CPR- and EMT-certified volunteers, most of them trained at the EMS Academy in Quincy, Mass., provide basic life support care at more than 500 events—from races to dances to comedy shows—each academic year. BCEMS holds regular training courses in first aid, CPR, and emergency medical education for the Boston College community. Trained volunteers are “on call” seven days a week, driving a non-transporting ambulance that responds to emergency calls to the Boston College Police Department (BCPD).
BCEMS owns and operates a white 2012 Ford Explorer that is in service Sunday through Wednesday 6:00 p.m. to midnight, Thursdays until 2:00 a.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. Three volunteers—a supervisor, crew chief, and third rider—staff each of those shifts, working out of the medical service’s Maloney Hall headquarters until BCPD dispatches them over radio. BCEMS president Kevin Zirko ’16 said that on an average night volunteers see about five patients, whose afflictions frequently include intoxication, sports injuries, psychiatric episodes, allergic reactions, and seizures. (As of press time, BCEMS had responded to more than 124 emergency calls during the fall semester.)
BCEMS falls under the auspices of Boston College’s Office of the Dean of Students, and works with an advisory board that includes Dean of Students Thomas Mogan, BCPD Chief John King, Thomas Nary, M.D., director of University Health Services, and Mark Miceli, associate director of the Office of Student Involvement. The board serves as guides and advocates, according to Zirko. “But all of the operations of the organization are maintained by our officer corps.”
Nursing and premed students make up a majority of EMS volunteers. They are a select group; of the 60 who apply, only approximately 20 are accepted each year. Zirko, a premed student majoring in applied psychology and human development, says that nowhere else on campus can students get such “deep exposure and hands-on experience in the medical field.”
To stay sharp, all volunteers must attend at least three hours of continuing education each month. Training exercises range from hypothermia care to treating runners’ injuries. On the night of the “tailgating and alcohol” session, 20 volunteers were split into small teams. Continuing education coordinator Lauren Dzera ’16 sat in a second-floor classroom and dispatched them via walkie-talkie to treat students who were positioned in corridors throughout the building, mimicking various afflictions.
Soon after treating Finnerty, Kim received a call from Dzera, “We have an injured student by the water fountain. Over.” With a first aid kit and treatment checklist, Kim, Egnor, and Cheng double-timed over to find Alex Sudyn ’16 (EMS’s ambulance operations coordinator) on the ground grabbing his ankle.
“You can’t arrest me! I’m just hanging out,” said Sudyn, who appeared visibly inebriated. The volunteers played roles—and stayed in character—throughout the evening, sometimes attracting attention from undergraduates studying for midterms. At one point a concerned passerby asked, “Should I call 911?”