Student EMTs to the Rescue
When there’s a medical emergency on the Middlebury campus, the first qualified responder will be a trained professional with hundreds of hours of experience. It could be an EMT from the volunteer ambulance service or a member of the faculty and staff emergency medical squad. But if the emergency occurs Thursday through Sunday, the first responder might be someone you know from your history class, your freshman dorm, the track team, or even a member of the International Students Organization.
That’s because more than 35 Middlebury students are certified at the level of EMT-B, or emergency medical technician-basic, and are qualified to provide basic life support and non-invasive procedures like cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillation (AED), and spinal immobilization.
Now in its third year of existence at Middlebury, the Student Emergency Response Team, or SERT, is invisible most of the time. When SERT members are on call they carry radios and red backpacks filled with medical gear, and they need to stay alert and in contact with each other. And while SERT averages less than two calls per weekend, the members of SERT take their responsibility seriously.
Kyle Harrold ’13 has been a certified EMT-B since he was a junior in high school in Redding, Connecticut. In addition to taking pre-med classes at Middlebury and pole-vaulting on the track team, Harrold is president of SERT and one of its original members. And on most Sunday nights (through Monday mornings) you’ll find this neuroscience major about 12 miles north of Middlebury volunteering with the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad.
About half of the members of SERT are pre-meds like Harrold and, by the latest count, eleven Middlebury students volunteer at ambulance services in Middlebury, Brandon, Bristol, and Vergennes.
“On most SERT calls we are the first responders to the scene,” Harrold said, “but we don’t necessarily get to see the person all the way to the hospital. We don’t get to experience the entire call. By working with a local ambulance squad, you get a greater variety of calls and can learn a lot more about emergency medical service.”
Three EMTs arrive outside a classroom at Hillcrest Environmental Center ready to investigate a call for medical assistance. They open the door, enter the darkened space, and when the room lights don’t work they flip on their flashlights. There is a man lying motionless on the floor with blood on his shirt. As they approach the man, one of the EMTs notices bullet casings on the floor. What should the EMTs do next? A) check the victim for vital signs, B) continue surveying the scene, or C) get out of the room and call for police backup.
Members of SERT experienced this situation on a recent Monday night, except the blood wasn’t really blood. It was store-brand strawberry sauce, like the kind you’d put on an ice cream sundae. And the man lying on the floor wasn’t dead or wounded; he was Travis Stoll ’13 pretending to be a victim with strawberry sauce all over his t-shirt.
SERT’s training officer, Tim Fields ‘12, created this scenario for campus EMTs during an exercise on bloodborne pathogens and scene awareness. “Avoid tunnel vision and always perform a thorough scene survey,” Fields said. “It may pay off for you one day.”
Fields also taught his fellow EMTs the correct procedure for donning (and removing) personal protection equipment at accidents involving body fluids. Remember the acronym MEGG, Fields said, so you always put on your mask first followed by your eye protection, gown, and gloves.
“At the end of the call, once you’re all clear, you remove your protective equipment in reverse order,” Fields said showing the group how to take off their strawberry-smeared gear. “First the gloves, then the gown, then the eye protection, and lastly the mask. And anything you touched with your gloves—including every instrument you used—spreads contamination so you have to clean those, and don’t forget your radios too. Always use a two-step cleaning method: first remove every contaminant you can see, and then wipe everything down with alcohol or bleach.”
(If you answered (C) above—“get out and call the police”—you were correct.)
As part of the training session, Fields urged SERT members to “never try and re-shield a needle, and if you have to leave a needle exposed, always announce it to the other EMTs on the scene.” Needle sticks pose a great threat to first responders, he said, and he advised the members to get vaccinated for Hepatitis-B and Hepatitis-C for their added protection.
Middlebury’s environmental health and safety coordinator, Edmund “Ed” Sullivan, said that when SERT was started in September 2009, “We really had no way to know how the program would evolve.”
Sullivan, the adviser to SERT and an EMT with Brandon Rescue, continued: “We didn’t know how committed the students would be in terms of responding [to emergencies] in off hours around campus. They have done a wonderful job, and they work so well with Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Service (MVAA) once the ambulance arrives on campus.” But in those first few minutes before the ambulance arrives, SERT members can mean the difference between life and death for a patient.
Looking to the future, Sullivan can envision a time when SERT will have its own ambulance to handle calls on campus. “We are looking at the possibility of getting a used ambulance that will say, ‘Operated by Middlebury College’ on it. I can see SERT as more than just a first-response team on certain nights and weekends. I can see SERT running its own calls and serving as a professional back-up crew for MVAA. And I can see them teaching first aid/CPR classes on campus and in the community.
“No matter what these students eventually do in life, they will never forget the time they spent as EMTs here at Middlebury College.”