EMS Continues to Serve Students, Essential Staff Who Must Remain on Campus
By Ed Brennen
That hasn’t changed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Student EMTs (emergency medical technicians) are still working out of the EMS office on East Campus, ready to respond to emergency calls from the nearly 300 students who remain in residence halls because they could not return home when the university moved to online learning.
Fortunately, the volume of emergency calls from students (and essential staff members) has been minimal now that the campus has all but closed. But that hasn’t made the work any less important for the nearly 20 student EMTs who, in rotating teams of three, report for eight-hour shifts each day.
“We’re trying to help as much as we can, with the knowledge that we have, and be a resource to people who need us right now,” says the EMS program’s assistant manager, Jeyrie Ramos, a senior pre-med biology major from Lawrence.
Ramos, who is minoring in public health, is responsible for keeping the certified student EMTs up to date on all the latest COVID-19 safety protocols, from how to document emergency calls to the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPEs). The EMTs have all been fit-tested for N95 respirator masks by the university’s Environmental Health and Safety department.
“When the coronavirus outbreak started, EMS protocols were being updated almost every day,” says Ramos, who shares guidelines set by the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services with all the EMTs during weekly Zoom meetings. “It’s slowed down a little, but there are still a lot of changes going on.”
Managed by Life Safety and Emergency Management and headquartered in the first floor of Donahue Hall, EMS is normally staffed by a team of around 40 students, who receive small stipends for their work as field supervisors, senior EMTs and cadets. Once certified, many of the students also work as EMTs for local ambulance companies like Trinity EMS, the city’s 911 emergency service provider.
Field supervisor James Monis, a junior criminal justice major from Nashua, N.H., has worked for both the university EMS and Trinity for more than a year. While the coronavirus has made his job as an EMT more stressful, Monis says it has also strengthened his belief in the work.
“Working in EMS requires resiliency — even more so during a pandemic — and the people that work for us are some of the most resilient around,” says Monis, who is also on a pre-med track. “Our goal as an organization, now more than ever, is to be there for the campus community in any way we can. I'm happy when I'm able to give patients and the community a sense of relief by being there when they call.”
Since the shutdown, the EMTs have responded to calls dealing with minor falls, respiratory issues and motor vehicle accidents that have occurred on campus streets.
While they wait for those calls, the students can do their online coursework while keeping a safe social distance from one another in the EMS office. They also do a lot of cleaning, both in the office and in the three EMS vehicles. When EMTs report for a shift, they are screened for any possible COVID-19 symptoms by their supervisor. Most commute from home or off-campus apartments, although two EMTs are still living on campus.
Katherine Mayer, a senior public health major from West Townsend, Mass., became an EMT in 2018. She makes the 50-mile round trip to campus about once a week for an EMS shift, and she’s also continued to work as an emergency room EMT at Lowell General Hospital.
“When we respond to calls now, we have to take different precautions. It’s been an adjustment, for sure,” says Mayer, who will begin pursuing her master’s degree in nursing at Boston College this summer.
Accustomed to working on a bustling campus, Mayer says it’s strange to see things so quiet.
“When I was on South Campus the last time I worked, I saw three people,” she says. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Neither has Richard Wood, director of life safety and emergency preparedness. He was Nashua’s director of emergency management during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that killed more than 12,000 people in the U.S.
“I’ve been through a World Health Organization-declared pandemic, but this has affected us in a completely different way,” says Wood, who is coordinating the university’s coronavirus response through regular conference calls with department representatives from across campus. He is also in close contact with city and state officials.
Wood says the UML community’s response to the coronavirus has been “phenomenal.” One example: Many labs and academic departments across campus have donated gloves, face masks, goggles and cleaning supplies to the university’s Emergency Operations Center, which has distributed them to EMS and other first responders in Lowell.
“The entire university has risen to the occasion,” Wood says. “Everybody is doing anything and everything they can, which for us is to provide the services and take care of our students and our community.”
Like Wood, Emergency Preparedness and EMS Coordinator Kevin Conley is proud of how student EMTs have responded to the coronavirus crisis in such a professional manner.
“These are trying and uncertain times, but we’ve all seen people do tremendous things when they’re challenged,” says Conley, who recently earned his Master Continuity Practitioner Designation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “As a team, the EMTs are pulling themselves together. They’re an amazing group.”