The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Campus rescue squads popping up across U.S.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. on April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad got a call to its station on the deadliest day in a school’s history. For the team of first responders, it might as well have been any other day on the job.

At about 7:15 a.m., a Virginia Tech student, Seng-Hui Cho, shot and killed fellow students Emily Hilscher and Ryan Christopher Clark in an on-campus dormitory. The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad was dispatched at 7:21 a.m., and arrived on the scene less than 10 minutes later. Just before 10 a.m., Cho entered a classroom building, killed 30 people, wounded 17 and killed himself.

“Like with any MCI [mass casualty incident], we contacted our dispatchers and alerted all of the other squads in the area who sent over whatever crews they had available,” said VTRS President James Downing.

Virginia Tech and hundreds of other universities across the country are part of the National College Emergency Medical Service Foundation. These student-operated organizations provide emergency medical care to college campuses where city or county-run first responders may not be available.

First prevalent in small towns in the northeast, the practice of having a student-run EMS service has spread to colleges all over the country. Schools such as Clemson, Duke, George Washington and Boston University each have student-run and operated rescue teams serving its community. The practice has moved out of small college towns and into major cities like Washington D.C. and Boston.

Baylor University, Texas A&M, Rice University and St. Edwards University in Austin all have student EMS teams.

On its Web site, the Texas A&M University EMS said that it “operates one of the most aggressive set of protocols in the Texas region,” and “has proven to be one of the most elite collegiate EMS agencies in the United States.”

At SMU, however, emergency medical situations are handled by the SMU Police Department. The university has mutual aid agreements with rescue teams in University Park, Highland Park and the city of Dallas.

The VTRS reported in a prepared statement that on April 16 they coordinated EMS command, triage, treatment and transportation of patients. As part of several mutual aid contracts with other EMS teams in the area, the VTRS received aid from 14 other agencies. Luckily for the university, the professional leadership of the VTRS made the chaos of the tragedy less hectic.

An EMS command post was set up from the on-campus station, with two student lieutenants in charge who would radio out commands.

In the report by the Virginia Tech Review Panel released in August, the VTRS was highly commended for its rescue efforts.

“Their actions on April 16 were heroic and demonstrated courage and fortitude,” stated the report.

The report went on to say that because of the VTRS’ excellent response, many lives were saved.

“The application of a tourniquet to control a severe femoral artery bleed was likely a lifesaving event,” said the report.

Operated entirely by student volunteers, the VTRS is the second oldest collegiate emergency medical service in the country. For more than 30 years, the team has been serving the Virginia Tech community as the first responder unit to any and all medical emergencies.

Downing, a senior mechanical engineering major at Virginia Tech, says that being a student first responder makes someone want to serve their community that much more.

“It puts you that much closer to the people you are going to help,” said Downing. “It’s a lot harder to relate to your patients otherwise.”

In response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech, SMU’s emergency management department has been making improvements to its operating system, said Lee Arning, SMU’s director of emergency management.

In comparison to what other Texas universities have in place, Arning said he is proud of the emergency management program at SMU. Being a private university gives SMU the opportunity to implement programs faster and with less bureaucratic interference than other public institutions.

A student-run first responder unit is not in the university’s near future, said Arning. The start up and operation of a volunteer organization, he said, is an “unbelievably labor intensive” process.

For the founders of the University of Miami’s Canes Emergency Response Team (CERT), convincing university administration that their organization was necessary and possible was the hardest part of its startup.

University of Miami students conceived the idea for CERT after hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita damaged the university within the first three months of the fall 2005 semester.

“If there was a more serious event on campus, the university might not have the appropriate resources to deal with it,” said CERT co-founder Matthew Shpiner, a University of Miami senior finance major.

UM CERT’s first recruit class in early 2006 received 50 applications from which 30 were selected. Now the program has 60 student volunteers who all go through intensive training and drill procedures.

“We practice in how we intend to play,” said Shpiner. “Everyone is very serious in how we train.”

The UM emergency team has not had to deal with any major disasters so far. Members hope to eventually recruit a class of medical first responders, similar to Virginia Tech’s organization.

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