On campus, on call

On campus, on call

on campus, on call

by Joel Gordon ’81 & Julie Howery ’97

PHOTO EXTRA: EMS founding members photo
EXTRA: GS-RU EMS photo gallery

The wait for the ambulance seemed to take forever.

The student was in bad shape, unconscious, with several broken bones, lying where the tractor trailer struck him near Winans Hall. I was in my first few weeks as a freshman in 1978, just leaving an evening concert at the Student Center. I identified myself as a fireman and the crowd pretty much backed away.  I made sure the young man’s airway was clear and that he was breathing, then asked someone to hold his head still as I assessed his injuries. With an unconscious patient and without first aid gear or skilled help, there wasn’t much we could do but keep him stable and wait.

At last the ambulance cut through campus and the crowd broke to let the two-man crew through. “He’s a mess,” one said. They lifted him onto the stretcher, shoved it into the ambulance and drove away.

I was new to GSC, but imagined the potential for tragedy with 6,000 students on 200 busy acres. "This has to change," I thought.

The accident and the long wait for help were still on my mind a few days later when I met Brian Hall. He was wearing a jacket from his hometown first aid squad in Passaic, so I told him what had happened and what I wanted to do. Brian was on board. Another day, I spotted John Zenuk, a commuter from Haddon Heights, wearing ambulance ID, and I pitched our plan, which soon included David Brown, from Salem, and Bob Swenson, from the Beachwood First Aid Squad. We met in the Mullica Hall lounge to discuss options.

Soon, we learned that President Mark Chamberlain was a volunteer firefighter in Glassboro. No one would better understand what we were trying to do, so we asked to meet with him, first-semester freshmen with the ridiculous idea of starting an on-campus first aid squad —and, of course, the famously student-centered and community-minded president listened.
That was the start of the oldest continually operating volunteer student-run Basic Life Support unit in New Jersey, now Rowan’s award-winning, life-saving—and life-changing—nationally recognized professional emergency service.

Starting with the president's wheels
With Dr. Chamberlain’s encouragement that autumn, the ambitious freshmen worked to convince the rest of the college administration to support a student-run first aid squad. Formed as a student club, the students started serving campus the following April. The fledgling Glassboro State First Aid Squad had the benefit of SGA financing, stability and recognition, ensuring it would be student-run and student-centered.

President Chamberlain agreed to be the club advisor and even offered his vehicle, a college-owned station wagon, to the students. Good-humored and practical, he gave them the keys and said, “It’s easier than trying to requisition something from the motor pool.”

Eventually, a motor-pool station wagon became available. Each night the students loaded it with equipment and fuel, ready to go. The old car had seen better days and had alignment problems. “That’s good,” said Chief of Security Jeff Toughill. “You won’t drive it too fast.”

It didn’t take long for the College to realize the benefit of having its own students respond quickly and transport patients just as promptly. A student at Edgewood Apartments had stopped breathing and the professional ambulance was delayed, so the college dispatcher OK’d the student squad to transport to the hospital. With proof of the students’ competence, the squad gained authority to transport patients. By then, the club had acquired a castaway 1967 GMC ambulance from the Lacey Township First Aid Squad.

Ironically, today the squad operates from specially designed, fully equipped headquarters in Winans Hall, near the site of the accident that started it all. But 40 years ago, the squad’s base was as meager as its wheels were: a second-floor room above the Campus Security office in the Carriage House where the dispatcher downstairs could yell to them to scramble.

In its second year, the students expanded into a new space in the security office with bunk beds, a desk and a phone. By then, Swenson and Gordon had earned advanced first aid instructor certifications so they could teach their own courses. Today, the squad limits membership to 70, with opportunities for students to learn on the job as “ride-along” volunteers, ambulance drivers and certified emergency medical technicians.

Earning trust, proving professionalism
Over the years, the squad would go through vast changes in membership, budget and responsibility. When Henry Rowan donated $100 million to Glassboro State College, the ripple effect reached every part of the institution. The Rowan gift would be the impetus for unprecedented growth of the campus, and the squad determined to grow with it. With that commitment, the students have earned public commendations for saving lives, providing education and serving hundreds of people in jeopardy.

But early on, the squad’s focus was necessarily limited. Its SGA budget was similar to most other student clubs’ general funding and not enough to maintain a functioning EMS agency. While Campus Security (later, Public Safety) paid for ambulance fuel and maintenance, the squad paid for supplies and equipment. Medical equipment isn’t cheap, and it was not out of the norm to “borrow” a backboard or other piece of equipment from a neighboring squad.

By the early ’90s, Automated External Defibrillators, previously solely used by paramedics, were beginning to be used more widely. However, at nearly $4,000 each, combined with the belief that there had not been a cardiac arrest on campus in recent memory, it was something that—ignorantly—was not on the radar for the squad to purchase. Tragically, in 1995, a spectator at a home football game went into cardiac arrest. The squad responded immediately, but the patient did not survive.

A few months later, someone who was in the stands during the incident made an anonymous donation to buy an AED. The squad has not been without one since, and now helps manage the public access AED program throughout all Rowan campuses.

Julie Glaser Howery ’97 served four years on the squad, the last two as captain, and remembers the effort to secure sufficient funding. “Every year we would attend a Student Government Association budget hearing,” she recalled. “The other line officers and I would dress in our Class A uniforms and put on as many radios and pagers as we could fit on our belts, with the hopes we would look important enough so they would think we knew what we were talking about and raise our budget.”

Eventually, Rowan EMS members joined the National Collegiate EMS Foundation and found benefit from its support, including help with recruiting, training and retaining members.

“I had EMS experience prior to joining the squad, but not in a leadership capacity,” Howery said. “It would have been great to have an organization like NCEMSF help with learning that role, as I found that to be the biggest challenge with being a member. However, that challenge helped me immensely with learning how to lead, train, supervise and motivate people in my career after graduating.”

Rowan EMS also found validation and service in two important NCEMSF initiatives. EMS Ready Campus recognizes excellence in emergency management and disaster preparedness. In 2015, the program’s inaugural year, Rowan EMS earned the EMS Ready Bronze designation. Two years later, Rowan became the nation's first collegiate squad to earn the EMS Ready Silver award.

The HEARTSafe Campus program recognizes high-quality, campus-based EMS organizations and promotes them as examples to other campuses to improve overall cardiac arrest care. Rowan EMS has maintained its designation since 2015 by hosting free CPR clinics on campus and participating in the American Heart Association’s Mobile Tour, training more than 250 people in hands-only CPR in a weekend.

State of emergency, ready for anything
Disaster preparedness may seem beyond the scope of a student volunteer organization, but Rowan’s EMS squad again proved its value during a state of emergency declared in 2011 for Hurricane Irene when Rowan’s Glassboro campus became an emergency shelter. Rowan EMS served 1,200 evacuees, from senior citizens to families with young children, who sheltered in the Student Recreation Center and Esbjornson Gym. Amid the storm, the squad helped to evaluate 250 patients and transported 34 people to the hospital in just 48 hours.

"The experience I gained on EMS, working football games and graduation, disaster management with Hurricane Irene, etc., really paved the way for me to continue into emergency medicine.”

—Michael Coletta ’12, MD’16

Not only has Rowan EMS made a difference in the lives of the people served in crisis, but in the lives of the squad members. “The experience I gained on EMS, working football games and graduation, disaster management with Hurricane Irene, etc., really paved the way for me to continue into emergency medicine,” said Michael Coletta ’12, MD’16. Now a second-year resident at Cooper University Hospital, he found that EMS experience provided a turning point and more. “I always wanted to become a doctor but there were some discouraging voices in my ear, so I went to Rowan for chemical engineering instead. But I couldn't get excited about engineering, so in order to see if medicine was really right for me, I switched to biochemistry and joined Rowan EMS. Not only did the squad provide me with clinical experience, but the friendships I made and maintained from the squad were great.”

Rowan’s disaster preparedness was evident again in 2012, this time with Hurricane Sandy and the call to serve beyond Rowan’s borders in Brick and Lavallette townships, assisting with search and rescue, as well as field hospital operations. Training for routine duty and the demands of broader service comes during routine certification (the squad pays to train members who join without credentials) and Mass Casualty Drills conducted with campus, local and state law enforcement and emergency management organizations. In each case, Rowan EMS provides service and support to ensure readiness for a real crisis.

Serving peers
There are distinct advantages for the University to maintain its own EMS. Students know the campus facilities, which reduces response times to emergencies. They also are familiar with campus services, which helps with referrals for counseling, alcohol and drug addiction services, the Wellness Center and more.

Most importantly, the student volunteers build rapport with fellow students; EMS staff are peers, so the students they care for are more inclined to be open with them when they need help. This provides more information, which allows for better treatment and recovery.

The squad’s statistics and services show its significance in the community. Every year, EMS members serve at athletic events, concerts and Commencement and participate in community activities on and off campus throughout the region. Since 2011, call volume has nearly doubled, from 429 to 763 calls in 2017. However, response times dropped, from 4.44 minutes in 2011 to 3.23 minutes in 2017.

A whim, a change, a future
None of these achievements would be possible without the dedicated members that have donned the various squad patches throughout the years.

"...how you handle yourself in various situations and not panicking is something I will always take with me.”
—Naimesh Choski ’93

For Patty Roda Lutz ’81, joining EMS led to a career as a paramedic with Inspira Hospital in Woodbury. She became the paramedic department educator in 1990, a position she still holds. “My degree was in communications. If it weren’t for the squad, I would probably have never entered medicine. A friend and classmate in a speech and theatre class, Dave Brown, was a member. He convinced me to join. My career change was directly because of the Glassboro State College First Aid Squad.”

As always, squad members come from varied academic disciplines—biology, elementary education, law and justice, business, art and more. And while several alumni have become doctors, others graduated to become teachers, engineers, business owners, firefighters and a healthy dose of law enforcement officers.

Naimesh Choksi ’93 joined as a way to help the college community and be involved on campus. After graduation, his EMS expertise helped in “real life,” including treating his kid’s inevitable bumps, cuts and bruises and being able to remain calm in stressful work situations. Now working in information technology, he said the interpersonal skills learned in EMS become most evident. “It's the people skills, whether it's talking to people in a reassuring way or working with your colleagues; how you handle yourself in various situations and not panicking is something I will always take with me.”

Cindy Fair Thompson ’97 graduated with a degree in special education. “As a freshman, I walked past the ambulance and on a whim, asked the guy out front if they needed volunteers. That one question made a huge difference in my life. It led to four great years of not just answering calls in the middle of the night but making memories and being part of an organization that became family. It will always be one of the best experiences that Rowan University provided me.”

Rowan EMS is now affiliated with the Wellness Center, forming a stronger collaboration with the institution’s health and counseling services and promoting training and educational resources for the University and beyond. “Thousands of students and employees depend on EMS to be ready to care for them every day. Being integrated with the Wellness Center helps us ensure quality of care during an emergency and in follow-up services,” said Scott Woodside, student health services director.

Founding squad members visited campus in May for the 40th reunion of the group. Already stunned by the story of Rowan EMS growth, service and skill since its start, they found a powerful close to the evening when an alumnus walked up to offer thanks. He explained, “When I came to Rowan I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was lost. I found the EMS Squad and it turned my life around. Today I am a paramedic and an emergency room nurse because of what you did.’”

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Joel Gordon ’81 is the public information officer for Plantation, Florida. Julie Howery ’97 is a detective with the Glassboro Police Department.