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Student EMT Service Begins on Campus

By Maria Wang

For several years, the MIT police have worn two hats, acting as both emergency medical technicians and law enforcers. Students are in the process of replacing the MIT police as EMTs and providing emergency medical service to the MIT community.

The Student Emergency Medical Services Group has trained 63 volunteer students as EMTs. More than a dozen other students were trained elsewhere and have joined MIT's student EMT program. Starting this summer, student EMTs have been handling evening shifts, and the MIT Police have been taking day shifts. Student EMTs respond to calls in an ambulance, which is run by the MIT ambulance residential service, from Thursday through Sunday in two shifts, from 6 p.m. to midnight and from midnight to 6 a.m.

“This summer we have been working jointly with the [MIT] Police. We respond to calls as a team. They have been sharing their experiences with us,” said SEMSG President Michael R. Folkert, G.

During the school year, each student EMT is expected to be on call for one shift per week, which constitutes a six to eight hour time commitment. The organizers of the student EMT program are still in the process of deciding how to deal with students being in class and handling day calls. “In other schools, students have a vibrating alert and leave class when called.” Folkert said.

The organizers of the student EMT program estimate that it will take 6 months to one year to completely replace the MIT police as EMTs. “It's a slow process. We’re handling the evenings now, and will increase the number of shifts gradually,” said Samuel A. Schweighart, G, SEMSG Chief.

Administrators echo plans for a steady transition. “We don’t want any glitches. We want it to be gradual and as seamless as possible,” said John DiFava, Chief of Police. “We want to be able to anticipate any problems.”

“We plan to phase it in over the summer and fall,” said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict.

Confidential EMT provided

Under the current system, the MIT police first fulfill their role as EMTs by transporting victims to hospitals. Next, acting as law enforcers, they file a police report if laws have been violated.

“Students may not be utilizing the service as it exists, since it’s police-run. It’s all about the safety of students in our community, and if there isn’t a call volume, then it has to be reassessed.” DiFava said.

“We don’t want misperceptions to be a barrier to getting help. The safety of students is our primary concern,” said Daniel Trujillo, associate dean for alcohol education and community development. “The transport is confidential. There is to be a medical follow-up, because oftentimes, overdose is symptomatic of personal issues.”

“We’re not removing accountability. There is still a follow-up; instead of judicial sanctions, there’s structured medical intervention,” Trujillo said. “Repeat offenders may be more serious and will be addressed. We try to prevent future incidents.”

Commenting on the current system, Trujillo said, “It’s role confusion for [MIT] Police as EMTs. It’s a difficult position for them.”

The student EMT program is the two-year old brainchild of Folkert, who said, “I was in a fraternity and exposed to confidential EMT issues.” Schweighart said, "[Student EMTs] will take someone's name and personal information only for medical purposes.” They will conform to Massachusetts state law on confidentiality and follow standard EMT guidelines.

“The service will be run as Massachusetts state law mandates. It can't be a renegade service.” DiFava said. “There are very few schools that have a police-run service. There are a lot of schools with a student-run service; a local example is [Worchester Polytechnic Institute].” Brown University also has a student EMT team. It is composed of 60 volunteers, most of whom are undergraduates.

Administrators support program

“Students get EMT training, which is a certain set of skills they can use wherever they go. Also, students may respond better to other students; they share a credibility with their peers,” Benedict said. Benedict does not have major concerns about the program. “EMTs are certified by the state, which has strict licensing rules,” he said.

“There are so many different levels to this program. It’s a unique training opportunity for students, particularly for those who want to pursue the medical profession,” said Trujillo. “It has the potential to offer tremendous support to the MIT community. Trained EMTs who reside on campus can provide a response in the residential community. It’s a great resource.”

Trujillo added, “We’re giving students the opportunity to have a positive impact. These students are committed to helping students.”

“The students in this program are very dedicated and have tremendous skills,” DiFava said.

The development of the student EMT program has involved the coordination of many groups. DiFava has been a mentor to the student EMTs, Benedict’s office has provided financial backing, and Dr. William M. Kettyle, director of MIT Medical has provided many additional resources.

SEMSG produces EMTs

The first EMT training was held during the Independent Activites Period, 2001, and extended into the spring. “We arranged to have a course taught by a Massachusetts certified teacher,” said Benedict, who has provided most of the funding for this program.

The course was offered again during IAP 2002 as the “Emergency Medical Technician (Basic) Certification Course.” There was a preference towards freshmen in the selection process, since those students will be at MIT longer. Approximately 90 percent of the student EMTs are undergraduates.

Both Folkert and Schweighart think approximately 50 students should be sufficient for this program to run as an independent EMT service. The goal is to train 40 students per year.

“We aim to train people from different locations, so that EMTs will be spread out.” Folkert said. Although these residential EMTs will not be on call or have scheduled hours, they will serve as a medical resource in their respective living groups. In a medical emergency, they can provide care until the ambulance arrives.

Nicolas A. Wyhs, ’05, Director of Ambulance Operations, who was an EMT during high school, said, “It’s sort of a waste to have a lot of EMTs on campus and not use them. The [MIT] Police’s primary goal is to do police work. It’s easier to distribute the work around and let students ride with us.”

The student EMTs are currently operating from a garage within Building NW12. “The ideal place would be centrally located on campus,” Folkert said.

Emergency phone numbers will stay the same under SEMSG’s free service.