Student EMTs learn how to save a life

There’s never an ordinary day on the job at Village Ambulance. At any given moment, the EMTs can be called on to deal with life-threatening crises. The pressure can be hard to manage for trained professionals, but some students are facing these situations right here in Williamstown. These scholars are trained to handle any medical emergency, and they just might save your life one day.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are licensed professionals trained to assist paramedics and healthcare professionals in medical crises. The College trains approximately 20 students each year to become primary EMTs. Often, patient lives rely on the quick response and competent care of these trained students dispatched to the scene, as EMTs must be able to respond to automobile accidents, rescues, trauma, fires and even psychiatric crises and childbirth. And because anything can happen during the hours of the routine eight-hour shift, EMTs must be prepared to tackle it all.

“You just go to every shift knowing that you don’t know what you’re going to [get],” said student EMT Jon Chow ’08. “You have to be prepared for everything. You have to be on top of your game.”

Chow, like many other student EMTs, initially trained because he wanted to gain more experience in the field of healthcare in preparation for a future career in medical management. “I started riding – they call it third riding – which is just like interning. I want to be an ER doctor or a trauma surgeon and on the side, I want to be a paramedic,” he said.

The experience has been especially rewarding because being an EMT has provided Chow a unique advantage and insight in medicine. “You get to interact with patients,” Chow said. “A lot of med students don’t touch a patient before medical school.”

Like Chow, Kenny Flax ’09 trained to become an EMT because he wanted to gain more exposure in the field of medicine. “I’m a pre-med, and [being an EMT] seemed like a really good way to get hands-on experience before I enrolled in medical school,” Flax said.

Many of these students began their training on campus, after enrolling in a basic EMT training Winter Study course. Kevin Garvey, an EMT for more than 15 years, teaches the class, with the course encompassing approximately 130 hours of training that include observation and practical learning. This intensive course requires students to attend classes as early as the first weekends of November, advancing to five days a week throughout Winter Study.

Although the students are trained to respond to similar situations, there is no such thing as a typical shift for an EMT.

“It’s really unpredictable,” Flax said. “When you go [to Village Ambulance] you don’t know what you’re going to get. There are times when I get there, take a sip of coffee, and then a call comes in and I don’t see that coffee until eight hours later. Or you could be there and literally not leave the place all day.”

Village Ambulance, located on Water Street, employs about 32 active EMTs and paramedics, eight of whom are Williams students. With the town’s population just over 8,500, the majority of emergency calls that Village Ambulance receives are from area nursing homes and in the winter, local ski resorts.

“On a shift you always have a lot of interesting patient interactions,” said Alex Beecher ’10. “When you’re traveling all over, you get to see a lot of different sides to Williamstown, like nursing homes and veterans homes.”

If the call only requires basic life support, the EMTs ride in the back of the ambulance with the patient. This situation allows students, like Chow, Flax and Beecher, to interact with patients on a personal level

“I’ve definitely met a lot of people. [When we’re in the back] we talk about anything – the area, the College,” Flax said. “[I remember this] one guy who’s had three heart-attacks. His blood pressure was awful, and he saw me wearing a Giants hat. He started yelling at me.”

Though the students’ experiences are hardly as dramatic as those of the doctors in House and ER, numerous calls coming in to Village Ambulance require EMTs to be at their best. After all, sometimes they are the only ones standing between life and death for their patients.

“There was a patient in a nursing home who collapsed, and then went into cardiac arrest,” Chow said. “Our team went into the room and started doing CPR [cardio pulmonary resuscitation] and shocked him. In the middle of CPR he started breathing again. I was like, this is amazing. We brought him to the ER, and a few days later he walked out on his own. That was very rewarding, going home knowing that you accomplished something that day.”

The student EMTs’ numerous experiences on duty have definitely given them a taste of a possible future in the medical field. As a result, Chow, Flax and Beecher all plan to continue working as EMTs this upcoming summer, as well as continuing to work with Village Ambulance. Perhaps the next time you hear the siren of an ambulance on campus, it just might be one of the College’s own responding to a call.