Nada Shoreibah ‘23
At least ten nights per semester, Davidson student Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) sleep not in their raised twin XL beds, but on cots or couches at the Davidson Fire Department. They await emergency calls from 6 pm to 8 am, passing the time by doing homework, watching television, and, when possible, sleeping. Upon receiving a call, they board the engine alongside staff firefighters to assist with medical transport procedures.
In 2016, the town fire department began accepting volunteer applications from EMT-certified Davidson students. Applicants had either independently obtained certification or were referred by the department to Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) for training. Once approved, they were required to work ten 14-hour night shifts each semester. Originally, volunteers worked weekend nights responding exclusively to calls from the college, but shifts have since extended to include weekdays and all local calls.
While the program has benefited both student participants and the Davidson community at large, logistical setbacks have kept an EMT station from expanding onto campus itself as quickly as Davidson EMTs had hoped.
In an article by Julia Knoerr ‘21 in the Davidsonian’s November 28, 2018, Jonathan Kim ‘19 said “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].”
According to Campus Police Chief Todd Sigler, the purpose of establishing a student EMT program was twofold: “In response to a number of alcohol calls, I think that the fire department had an interest in trying to start the program up […] in order to help address that. It also was an effort to try and give students access and exposure to a program that would benefit them.”
The campus police department hoped the EMT program would reduce the number of alcohol-related transports, though this has not been the case. “The numbers are a little high this semester,” said Sigler. “We’ve already exceeded fall of 2018 and fall of 2017 as individual semesters.” Nevertheless, he believes the EMT program has been an overall positive contribution to the campus community. “It’s another resource that is available to college organizations and student groups who are needing somebody to be on hand for first aid.”
Student EMTs currently spend shifts at the fire department, but their current goal remains to be stationed on-campus. This would allow for shorter response times and eliminate unnecessary use of fire department staff and vehicles.
“We’re in the process of trying to get the students enough experience so they can operate independently without us having to take one of our [firefighters] off the truck,” said Bo Fitzgerald ‘99, Cheif of the Davidson Fire
epartment. “Hopefully in a few years we’ll be able to have at least one of the [Student EMTs] who’s been on for two or three years […] and can know when to call for more help and when not to.”
“The fire department would still be there if we needed them,” explained student EMT Zach Miller ‘20. “But we would tell them immediately whether they needed to come […] or if it was something we could handle.”
Fitzgerald and former student EMTs initially planned to finalize a student-run station by this fall, but logistical challenges have stretched the timeline. Primarily, the EMT certification program that volunteer applicants were referred to for training is no longer offered as of last spring. “We did a hybrid course where we did half online work with Central Piedmont Community College and half night sessions that were every other week,” said Lilly Hennessey ‘20, who received her certification two years ago.
CPCC has since ended the hybrid program, which was well-suited to Davidson students because of its online element. The other EMT training course offered by the college is fully in person and therefore requires a twenty-minute drive to Charlotte several times a week. “Last spring…they tried to have students take night classes with a full time course,” said Hennessey. “It was too much and all of them ended up quitting because they couldn’t keep up with their schoolwork.”
Fellow student EMT Hannah Mallard ‘21 added, “We really have been trying to work with CPCC to bring back some sort of system where students could feasibly take on EMT classes while being a student at Davidson […] but they have kept refusing.”
As a result, the program has struggled to retain enough volunteers with adequate experience to respond unsupervised. “Most of us are seniors who will be graduating this year,” said Miller, “so even if we were comfortable doing it on our own, in a year that number will drop back down.”
To remedy this, the program is advising interested students to pursue training on their own before applying for a volunteer position at the Davidson station. “Now we’re looking at this model where we ask the students to get [their EMT certification] on their own, maybe over the summer, then come back to us,” said Fitzgerald. According to Mallard, “There’s even talk about being able to reimburse them after they finish the course so that [money’s] not an obstacle.”
Overseeing the application process is Captain Ben Atwell of the Davidson Fire Station, who stated, “we held an information session in September. The application…closed on October 1st, and we will start the interview process within the month.” New student EMTs will begin working night shifts at the station by Fall of 2020.
Atwell cited finding a location on campus for student EMTs to be stationed as a central challenge. “We are looking for a spot where the student EMT can work, undistracted, but also sleep, eat, and study during their shift. Davidson College has a lot of renovations going on at the moment, so this also limits options the College has for us.”
A decrease in weekend call demand has also challenged student EMTs to gain the work experience necessary to respond without professional firefighter assistance. “Call volume dropped substantially, which is a good thing from our standpoint. The bad thing about it is they’re just not getting as much experience as we had initially hoped,” said Fitzgerald. To compensate, volunteer shifts are no longer limited to weekend nights. “Now we’re letting them ride along with the trucks any night of the week… to hopefully get some more calls in and around town.”
Hennessey noted that weeknight shifts are especially strenuous. “Last year, we could do two weekdays and the rest were weekends, but now we can just do any day of the week,” she said. “If we get a lot of calls it can impact your sleep, which can…make it harder to keep up with schoolwork.”
Despite these difficulties, student EMTs continue to work with the college and fire department towards setting up a campus station. Miller is hopeful about the goal’s progress. “I think it’s definitely possible that that happens, at least a few trial runs this spring.” Atwell shared a similar sentiment: “We still continue to strive to meet this goal. It unfortunately just takes a lot of time and there are a lot of logistics involved. Every semester we are getting closer to achieving [it].”