Julia Knoerr ‘21
The Davidson Fire Department once relied entirely on volunteers, many of whom were Davidson College students. However, increasing calls and training standards challenged volunteers to meet requirements and staff fire engines. In an e-mail, Davidson Fire Department Chief Bo Fitzgerald ’99 illustrated, “The department ran around 270 calls my senior year in 1999. This year, we’ll respond to roughly 1600 calls for service.” Consequently, paid firefighters from larger departments replaced volunteers, eliminating opportunities for Davidson students.
In 2016, the fire department began training Davidson students as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to address growing call demand. Fitzgerald stated, “The biggest goal…was to lighten the load for our downtown engine company. Every time the engine responded to the college for a call, this meant that it was not available to respond to other calls in town.”
In an e-mail, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Jason Shaffer specified the program’s intention “to reduce the impact [of] medical evaluations for intoxicated students.” The number of campus medic transports has varied over the past three years; Campus Police Chief Todd Sigler shared that in 2016, 26 students were transported, but that number rose to 38 in 2017. For 2018, there have been 23 transports to date.
The new program focuses specifically on Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Fitzgerald remarked, “With the [Davidson] academic workload, it probably isn’t feasible for students to spend roughly 300 hours training to be a firefighter. But half of our calls aren’t fire calls at all—they’re EMS calls.”
EMT positions also require significant time commitment. Students work eight 14-hour shifts per semester on Friday or Saturday nights. Each shift lasts from 6pm to 8am. Cam Hall ’21 explained that “training is a full course load, so last semester I spent probably 200 hours [on] coursework, and that includes 72 hours of ride time, plus a lot of Saturdays…and Thursdays in class.”
Fitzgerald commented on the program’s work-school balance, sharing, “The college has been very supportive so far, and we try to make sure that our team members maintain a good balance between academics and their duties as EMTs. This means that students must maintain a minimum GPA [of 2.5] (we check this periodically). Academics come first, and we try to reinforce this.”
Conversely, Mia Guzynski ’19 remarked, “I think it’s very challenging to balance with school…It feels like you have got an on-campus job that you don’t get paid for.” As a next step, Hall and Ricky Granger ’21 believe students should receive academic course credit.
Within the program, Granger finds coordinators accommodating to students’ needs. He also recognizes less flexible aspects, such as study abroad: “obviously you’re missing a lot of shifts, and that’s not ideal for the program… because you have to keep up with continuing education.”
Despite high time commitments, the EMT program widely benefits students and community members. Guzynski noted, “You get a lot of actual patient contact, which is not something that, as an undergrad, is really open [with] a lot of other volunteer positions.”
While many students participate for volunteer hours, she indicated, “It’s not the most efficient way to get active volunteer hours because I’ve had 5 or 6 shifts where I’ve gotten zero calls.” However, calls give early, hands-on medical experience, making the program worthwhile.
Furthermore, Guzynski added, “You get to see the college from a very different perspective because [EMTs] respond first to [incidents] like the druggings or cases of sexual assault.”
Additionally, student lead Hannah Doyle ’19 strongly supports the program’s mission, explaining, “…my [first] year here, I lived on third Belk, and the first weekend on campus, there were 16 transports from Belk alone. That blew my mind, so I wanted to help the community.”
Beyond medical training, the program offers practice in professional settings. Interactions with firemen or patients in the Davidson and Charlotte areas , for example, provide useful experience.
Jonathan Kim ’19, also a student lead, added, “It’s a really fast-paced job you have to do [in] a really high stress environment.” Thus, students can assess career paths, such as pre-hospital work and emergency medicine. He emphasized, “It really clearly lets you know whether you’re right for a field like that or not.”
The role also presents personal challenges. Hall expressed, “It can be emotionally taxing. I don’t know how many other EMTs have had the experience of a patient dying, but it’s hard.”
The position requires significant responsibility, and students hold liability. Doyle explained, “In a medical scenario, we can be held liable if we were trained to do something and we did that thing wrong…that’s why currently we’re still with the firemen when we go on calls.” They must ensure EMTs are within protocol and comfortable with their skills.
Like other medical professionals, EMTs take confidentiality under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Hall shared, “There certainly are challenges with confidentiality because legally we can’t say much about our patient interactions, and the laws are technically only referring to identifying information. I’ve seen students on campus and had patients on campus, and seeing them afterwards is not a big deal, but I just have to make sure that I never say anything.”
Similarly, Guzynski noted, “It’s kind of challenging with a small campus, but it is very serious.” Confidentiality is crucial to the program; Fitzgerald emphasized, “The success of this program depends on students being able to trust that those coming to their aid will not go out and gossip about or publicize their private information.”
Because the program is relatively new, it has also faced organizational challenges and improvements. Guzynski noted, “What I signed up for is absolutely not what this turned out to be. I was in the first class that ever ran, so obviously there were a lot of problems, and there wasn’t a formalized way of collecting feedback…But the program is so much better run now.”
EMTs have not received help from anyone affiliated at the college, but student leads hope to increase interaction. Kim elaborated, “Right now, we’re working on setting up a station on campus grounds so we can respond faster and independently. We hope to be entirely student run [by fall 2019].” Fitzgerald feels optimistic about the program’s direction.
On campus, the EMT program has begun improving student awareness and responsibility around drinking. Kim offered, “We’ve seen a steady decline in the number of transports we’ve had to do over the years, so I’d say that’s a good sign that there is positive change that’s happening.”