Students answer call to help in emergencies

“Can you picture yourself providing medical aid to a sick child during an international crisis; traveling the world as part of a disaster response team; or helping to save a life here at Wheaton?”

That’s the question the Office of Health and Wellness posed last spring, seeking to create a team of students trained to be emergency medical technicians (EMTs) when the need arises on campus, or anywhere else.

Twenty students answered yes. So, this fall the college launched its first-ever Wheaton Emergency Medical Service team, under the guidance of Associate Dean for Health and Wellness Craig Andrade. Safety Program Consultants, Inc., and Norton Fire-Rescue personnel have been training the students (photos depict drill). All members of the team were required to complete a state-accredited EMT course and pass the state’s practical and written certification exams.

Their work will entail answering non-life-threatening calls on campus. A Wheaton public safety dispatcher will triage all calls, then notify the student EMTs on duty when there is an acute health-related situation. If the call suggests that there’s a life-threatening situation, the Norton emergency service will be contacted through the 911 system. The students also will be on hand during some campus events.

Members of the inaugural group said they have gotten involved for a variety of reasons—from wanting to possibly save a life to preparing for future careers.

Samuel Obstfeld ’12, who is pursuing a major in European history and minors in biology and environmental studies, said he has always been interested in the field of emergency medicine. He’s a trained lifeguard and has a Wilderness First Responder certification. “When Wheaton offered the EMT class, I jumped at the opportunity to improve my skills,” he said. “I greatly enjoy giving back to the community in any capacity, and this way I can do so while advancing my interests in emergency medicine.”

Katherine Niegisch ’12, a psychobiology major, plans to go to medical school after graduating from Wheaton. “Being an EMT will be great exposure to the medical field, and a way to learn practical skills and evaluation techniques that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience before attending medical school,” she said. “Also, I see it as a really cool and profound way to help people. I think that we will bring a great new service element to the campus, and I am excited to be a part of that.”

Obstfeld and Niegisch are also members of the Emergency Medical Service steering committee.

Andrade first began thinking about starting a team in 2008 when he was developing the Citizen CPR program, in which Wheaton peer health advocates trained students on campus and at Norton High School. The successful collaborations with local and regional emergency preparedness leaders helped lay the foundation for considering an EMT training course here, Andrade said.

Others working in support of the program include: David Bamford, assistant director of public safety; Kate McCaffrey, associate dean of Residential Life; and Norton Emergency Medical Services director Mike Wilson, who will all serve on an advisory board. Wheaton’s Student Government Association also has been instrumental in supporting the program with grants for training and funds to help pay program start-up costs.

“The Wheaton EMTs embody the college’s values of student empowerment and leadership. And the program demonstrates our priorities of student health and safety,” said Andrade. “In a very short time, students will take a lead role in revolutionizing the way we promote these values and priorities. These students will take the power of healing and advocacy into their own hands and help lead the way in continuing to make Wheaton a great place.”