GW students Jay Abbott and Geoff Shapiro noticed a major problem with emergency medical care on campus in 1994. The District’s lack of ambulances and emergency medical services (EMS) staff meant GW students could wait up to an hour for a city ambulance to assist them.
Abbott and Shapiro proposed a solution. Instead of urging the city to hire more emergency staff, they volunteered their own time and services. After two years of struggling to convince city officials that GW students could handle the job, the Emergency Medical Response Group (EMeRG) was born.
In its third year, EMeRG has grown into a 35-member student-run organization, on call from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week. The staff spans in age from GW freshmen to graduate students and draws students from diverse geographical backgrounds and majors. And it gives Foggy Bottom residents a quicker alternative than calling District emergency teams.
“When EMeRG began in the fall of 1996, the group had to build up a lot of trust within the community,” said Dan Kaniewski, supervisor of University and public relations for EMeRG. “University and D.C. Fire Department officials were hesitant to let students care for their own, especially when it came to the critical EMS work. They didn’t really see us as EMTs (emergency medical technicians).”
To join EMeRG, students must complete 120 hours of EMT training,
commonly offered at universities, schools and hospitals throughout the country. Certified EMTs are skilled in a variety of life-saving techniques such as CPR and triage methods of determining a patient’s needs in an emergency. Some members of EMeRG are paramedics who have taken the required 1,200 hours of course work.
“The misconception that EMeRG is just a bunch of kids who don’t know what they are doing could not be farther from the truth,” Kaniewski said. “The reality is that our staff is as highly trained as any other D.C. EMS squad, if not more so.”
EMeRG is trained to handle any emergency and has dealt with everything from car accidents to serious assaults. The group also fields calls from students suffering from anything from sprained ankles to mild colds.
“When Student Health Service closes, we open,” said W. Scooter Slade, EMeRG’s supervisor for education and training. “A lot of people who make decisions at this University go home at five o’clock. They don’t see the stuff that we do see everyday.”
Slade explained that EMeRG acts as both a resource and a reference point for students with health concerns.
“On the weekends, Student Health is closed and the only option students seem to have in dealing with minor ailments is a trip to the GW hospital emergency room, because it’s the only health care facility open,” said Kaniewski, a three-year member of EMeRG.
“If students give us a call, we might be able to help them or instruct them to wait and go to Student Health Monday morning. Kids want to be taken care of,” he said. “Though going to the emergency room is certainly always an option, it’s not always the best use of resources.”
EMeRG can be an even greater asset in severe emergencies, Kaniewski said. EMeRG is automatically dispatched when a call is placed to the University Police Department’s emergency line at 994-6111.
EMeRG’s average response time is just three minutes, compared with a city EMS squad that could take up to an hour, Kaniewski said.
“EMeRG’s vision is that the group will provide high quality service to the GW community,” he said. “To us, `high quality service’ means getting to the scene of the emergency as fast as possible. The metro ambulances just can’t do that. D.C. is just too big of a city with too few resources to handle the volume of emergencies it must, in a timely fashion. Their system is in the process of change, but it still isn’t anything we’d be proud to have GW students run into.”
EMeRG services the entire Foggy Bottom community. One to three member teams are dispatched on mountain bikes laden with 50 to 80 pounds of medical gear.
Kaniewski said mountain bikes are becoming a popular mode of transportation for EMS squads throughout and the country, and EMeRG may have been one of the first groups to use them as a primary mode of transportation.
In addition to increased efficiency, EMeRG greatly has decreased the emergency calls placed to the fire department, Kaniewski said. He explained that when an emergency is called in to UPD, a fire truck bearing EMTs is sent immediately to the scene. The procedure is carried out even if the medical emergency is minor, tying up valuable fire trucks.
“If there is an emergency in Thurston Hall and the police are called, the fire truck will come with EMS to treat the person and won’t be able to leave until an ambulance arrives,” Kaniewski said. “If a fire then breaks out on the other side of campus, it might be quite sometime before another fire truck from across town can make it to the scene since our closest truck is tied up at Thurston.”
EMeRG gives students emergency medical care without dispensing fire trucks to the scene.
Kaniewski said he estimates that the most frequent on-campus calls concern sprained ankles, diabetes-related problems, asthma and intoxication. When it comes to cases of excessive intoxication, he said students rarely know how to assist their friends and often fear that a call for professional help will result in an alcohol citation for themselves or their friends.
“There’s no excuse for not calling for help,” he said. “When someone’s life is in your hands, you need to call EMS immediately. It floors me when kids think their friend is just fine and we arrive to find the student unconscious.”
“We like to have an active role in educating students on campus,” Slade said. “We’re students, we’re trained but we’re also willing to share our knowledge.”
In any situation, Kaniewski said, students should remember to dial 994-6111, instead of 911, because it guarantees the dispatch of EMeRG. A 911 call to the Metropolitan Police Department does not always lead to EMeRG notification.
“EMeRG provides a valuable service to the GW community,” he said. “We are proud of what we do, of helping our university and our fellow students We are also 100 percent volunteer and I think that shows how much caring means to us.”