RUEMS: First responders to campus medical emergencies

Hailey Laird, right, lets a child use a stethoscope to hear her heart beat.

Hailey Laird, right, lets a child use a stethoscope to hear her heart beat at the Nov. 29, 2017 College Mentors for Kids event.

For this story, the writer was embedded within the Radford University Emergency Medical Services (RUEMS) unit for an evening to see firsthand how the students handle the responsibility of being the first-responders to campus medical emergencies.

The students on the RUEMS squad provide pre-hospital emergency medical care for the Radford University campus and university-owned portions of the surrounding community. RUEMS is the first-responder to incidents in its jurisdiction.

The station, located below the Radford University Police Department (RUPD), has a room that doubles as the homework and recreation area and a separate area housing four bunk beds so the RUEMS members can get some rest in-between calls.

RUEMS banquet on Dec. 2, 2017.
RUEMS banquet on Dec. 2, 2017.

At the start of the Dec. 8 shift, RUEMS Captain David Darrach, also a firefighter and EMT, thoroughly checked Rescue 9, the emergency vehicle used by RUEMS. The crew then drove around campus, checking various buildings. The first building checked by RUEMS was Bondurant Auditorium, which hosted the R-SPaCE fall concert. RUEMS left emergency bags in the facility to decrease response time, if an emergency arose at the venue.

RUEMS went back to the station to eat and wait for a call. The students sat around the table, working on homework, studying for finals and preparing for their shifts, which last for either 12 or 24 hours and begin at 6 p.m.

There were a few calls that night, but none before 11 p.m. Taylor Hawkins, of Ocean City, Maryland, was one of the RUEMS personnel on duty that evening. As a call came in at the station, loudspeakers and radios placed around the station – including in the bunk room – came to life, loudly signaling that RUEMS’ expertise is needed.

“When we listen to the dispatcher, we get a general idea of what the call is,” Hawkins said. “It’s just telling us to go to a certain location with minimal information on the call itself. From there, we walk onto a scene and do a scene size-up.”

After returning from a call, she said that “you have to place yourself in the patient’s shoes first. You can only imagine how overwhelming it must to have four of us, an RUPD officer and other people around you. You need to make sure that the patient is comforted.”

RUEMS banquet
Top row: Lauren Nicholson, Katie Mankowski, Daren Smith, Hannah Stewart and David Darrach Bottom row: Jacob Britton, Kendalyn Hersh and Danielle Cyburt

In addition to RUPD officers, the City of Radford medical unit responds – which brings an ambulance to the scene in case the patient needs emergency transport. Hawkins, who traveled in the ambulance, assisted with multiple forms of care, including comfort care and bloodwork.

RUEMS Vice President Katie Mankowski, of Fairfax, said that trust is imperative to being a successful first responder.

“In a matter of two minutes, you have a chance of a first impression to make them believe that they can trust you and that you can take care of them,” Mankowski said. “You wouldn’t be in the field or have that job if people couldn’t trust you, but the trust between a patient and a provider and every situation is different. You, as an individual, need to be good with yourself so you can make others feel safe.”

RUEMS President Daren Smith, of Fredericksburg, said that the experience “gives you a different perspective, being in this organization and being a student.”

“It’s unique being collegiate EMS versus being city EMS or a large municipality,” Smith said. “We’re students, too – it’s a huge commitment. At times, the two compete with each other, but we are always students first. It’s different because of who we are and who we are serving.”

Darrach, a non-traditional student, has a decade of experience in the field and uses his experience to assist the other RUEMS members and to improve the quality of care. “One of the hardest parts of going back to college was figuring out how to change back to being a student," he said. "When I saw that there was RUEMS, it was a lot easier for me to adapt. Fire and EMS is something I’ve always known. I’ve always wanted to help people and I started when I was 15 years old.”

This is everything that drives me to keep going towards my career.

Katie Mankowski

Most of the members joined RUEMS because of their major – biology – but each person had their own path to the team.  

Jacob Britton, of Radford, joined RUEMS because he wanted to “do something good and help people,” but also have it relate to his double major of applied math and biochemistry.

“A lot of it comes down to focusing. I’m passionate about my studies and RUEMS. When you have things that you are passionate about, it makes you want to work harder. Finding the time is easy then.”

Hailey Laird, of Charlottesville, originally needed contract hours for her major, which she later changed. Even after changing her major, Laird stayed in RUEMS because she wanted to help people.

Laird said that during a call, your experience and knowledge just come to you. “It clicks,” she said. “I’ve gotten to get better with my response with consoling people because there are a lot of high-stress school things. I learned how to calm other people down and calm myself down. On our nights when we don’t have calls, we run drills. It helps.”

Darrach-Chavez, center, and Britton, lower left, show kids how someone is placed on the body board.
Darrach-Chavez, center, and Britton, lower left, show kids how someone is placed on the body board.

Chris Smith ’17 joined because of his career goals - he wants to be a physician. Smith said that being a student and in RUEMS is a challenge because you work 40 hours a week.

“It’s hard,” he said. “Yes, you can sleep at work, but that doesn’t mean you are going to. You’ll have some interruptions while doing homework or sleeping. It takes extra effort that I don’t know that other students realize – we don’t have a normal schedule at all. We might have a test at 8 a.m. and get an EMS call at 5:30 a.m. and you have to take the call. That’s a whole different challenge. Everyone goes to class tired.”

Mankowski’s path to RUEMS was a little different from the others. Late in high school, she was aiming for a career in criminal justice, but two months away from graduation, she was diagnosed with a condition that left her hospitalized for nearly a week. With how she was made to feel during that stay, Mankowski decided that she wanted a career in medicine.

“It is definitely not easy, but it is so worth it,” Mankowski said of being in RUEMS and being a full-time student. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I was in ROTC for two years and I left it because I was being spread so thin. I gave up something else, but I wanted to dedicate more time to this because this is everything. I’m learning medical stuff and how to treat someone, but not doing any of this in the classroom. This is everything that drives me to keep going towards my career.”

You can go to bed at night knowing you’ve made a positive impact on your community.

Daren Smith

Kendalyn Hersh, of Chesapeake, the public information officer for RUEMS, said that combining her major – biology – with RUEMS makes for a seamless transition between the two.

“It’s almost like you never change gears, she said. “You’re always in that education using a strong work ethic day in and day out. It’s almost easy to be working on organic chemistry then going out to a medical call on campus – you’re using the same strategies.”

Through it all, the agency is nothing short of a family, helping each other cope with the stresses of being first responders to helping another member understand classwork.

“Watching the members grow from being a rookie to someone who is extremely confident in situations that most people would not be is extremely rewarding,” Darrach said.

Jan 8, 2018
Max Esterhuizen