VEMS: Students saving students

Thomas Celona

People swarm around the scene, hoping to catch a glimpse of what is going on. Two cars, each one smashed and wrecked, sit motionless on the road between Mendel Field and the Grotto. One victim lies on the ground, while two others remain trapped inside the vehicles.

In a fury of sirens, ambulances and fire trucks arrive on scene. EMTs and firefighters flood the vicinity. The jaws of life crack open the vehicles’ frames; radio calls echo; frantic movement blurs people and equipment. They remove the victims from the cars just as a PennStar helicopter lands on Mendel Field, ready to transport them to the hospital. The whole process – accident to arrival to successful rescue – only takes around 20 minutes.This is life in the fast lane. And right in there with EMTs from Radnor and Narberth and firefighters from Radnor and Bryn Mawr are some of Villanova’s own – VEMS EMTs.Although it certainly appeared real to anyone walking past, the scene was actually a mock DUI drill. Organized by VEMS and P.O.W.E.R. peer educators, the event was designed to display the real-life consequences of drunk driving.The drill was presented as part of the 10th Annual Collegiate EMS Week, a national effort to recognize the services collegiate EMTs provide for their campuses. The week, which occurred from Nov. 5-11, also gave VEMS an opportunity to reach out to the Villanova community through a variety of programs.On Nov. 7, VEMS held an open house, inviting students, faculty and staff to tour its headquarters. The mock DUI drill occurred on Nov. 8, followed the next day by Friends & Family CPR Anytime, a course that provides instruction on both how to perform CPR and how to pass that knowledge on to others.VEMS embraced the opportunities presented by Collegiate EMS Week.”It’s a chance to show the campus that this is what we’re about,” says junior Kaitlin Ryan, captain of VEMS.The week’s events highlighted VEMS, a completely student-run program that is often misunderstood by many on campus.”The misconception is that we want to get people in trouble,” says senior Kim Stevens, a fourth-year member of VEMS. “We just want to make sure people are safe.”This false impression arises from the association students often make between VEMS and alcohol-related trips to the hospital. However, the statistics show that this association does not define the VEMS program.”Alcohol accounts for 17 percent of our calls,” says junior Mary Kate Funari, training lieutenant for VEMS. “Granted, people pay more attention at night.”Another misconception is that VEMS prompts disciplinary action when called to an alcohol-related incident.”Our job is just to evaluate – we are purely medical,” Stevens says, pointing out that they never speak with Dean Rost about cases. “We have nothing to do with the disciplinary action,” Funari says.Members of VEMS really wish students would stop viewing them as “the bad guys” because, as Stevens says, “We are students too.”And being a student means integrating VEMS work into an already busy schedule of classes and social activities.Many members log a minimum of 100 on-duty hours each month; the normal overnight shift lasts from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.The average night in the life of an on-duty VEMS member starts with a check of the ambulance and equipment. After grabbing dinner, the members of the overnight crew usually provide training to new members.Most importantly, they respond to calls when dispatched by Public Safety. When the call comes in, they are given the location and an initial report. Once the ambulance arrives on scene, they evaluate the patient and decided how to proceed. In many cases, VEMS transports patients to the Bryn Mawr Hospital for further evaluation.”Some nights you can have no calls,” Stevens says. “Usually we have one or two.”However, weekend nights tend to be much busier, with VEMS sometimes responding to seven or eight calls in a row, according to Ryan.But what about calm nights when VEMS sees little action? How do members pass those 14-hour shifts?They spend the time in their home away from home: VEMS headquarters. Located on the ground level of the Health Services Building, this space has all the amenities: wireless Internet, a big-screen TV, two bedrooms, a full bathroom, a full kitchen and, of course, airpots full of coffee. Students often pass the night either sleeping or completing homework. But many members use this time as a way to bond with their VEMS family. “Everyone here is kind of like everyone’s bigs and littles,” Ryan says. Funari’s crew often makes family dinners, and she recalls nights spent playing Frisbee or watching movies. “VEMS is a great place to foster relationships and grow as a person,” Funari says. On a typical night, headquarters fills with laughter and jokes, close friendships and vibrant energy. Then suddenly, blue swirling lights invade their home, and sirens resonate throughout the room. The radio crackles to life as a call comes in. In an instant, they are professionals again, rushing to the scene – maybe one just like last week’s drill. But this is why they put in the long hours; this is why they joined VEMS. “You do it because you want to help people,” Ryan says. “I’ve just always wanted to make a difference.”

How to become a member of VEMS:

All students, including those with no certification, can join VEMS.Once a student becomes CPR certified, they can ride on the ambulance as an observer.Each year VEMS sponsors an EMT certification class run by an outside party.At the end of the course, students take both a written and practical exam.Those who pass are certified as an EMT.There is a separate exam for ambulance drivers.After certification, students become probationary members.After a period of time, the VEMS executive board votes whether or not to clear the students to serve on their own based on their safety of actions and knowledge of life support skills.