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UVM Rescue Celebrates a Generation of Care

By Tanya Tersillo Article published November 6, 2002

UVM Rescue
To the rescue: Students involved with UVM Rescue take 2,300 calls a year and work at the station at least 80 hours a month. For more on the 30-year-old organization, see the story below. (Photo: Bill DiLillo)

Welcome to world of UVM Rescue student volunteers: After a full day of classes, you're finally in bed, the blanket warm and soft, and then an air horn goes off and blasts you groggily from sleep. You roll out of bed and into green jumpsuits and bulky boots, stumbling into the ambulance for a wild night ride, accompanied by sirens and flashing red and white lights.

The UVM Rescue squad, which turns 30 this year, is one of only 17 student-run certified ambulance transporting agencies in the country. The group handles approximately 2,300 calls a year — that's more than six per day — making the unit the second busiest responder in the state in most years, behind only the Burlington crew. Student volunteers spend a minimum of 80 hours a month at the station (100 or more is typical, and the figure jumps to 300 hours during months classes are in recess), and provide 24-hour-service to the campus, South Burlington and parts of the interstate.

The necessary crew of five are in the quarters every day of the week, requiring students to juggle school, work and rescue. It also requires them to jigger their finances to pay for shared on-call meals; a limited budget means the squad pitches in to pay its own way. More challengingly, providing emergency medicine to such a large population requires immense amounts of time spent training and studying. The students work to understand rescue protocol not to know the material or earn a grade. They do it to apply what they learn in a situation where they can be the difference between life and death.

For these passionate students, the work is more than worth it. "I can honestly say that joining is the best thing I have ever done," says junior Matt Murphy, the squad's director of operations. "I have learned more about various aspects of life in the past two years than most people have learned in their lifetimes."

A generation of care
UVM Rescue was not always certified and defined as an official Advanced Life Support transport agency, a key credential in the field. Rescue began in the spring of 1972, when several students with emergency medical technician certifications began responding with campus security to medical calls on campus.

The students, who carried kits with emergency supplies, were very effective as a first response team, and the group committed themselves to their job, arranging schedules so that one member was on duty at all times, sleeping on a cot in the back room of the Wason Infirmary.

This core group returned the following fall to find increased interest and recognition of their services. They organized themselves into a squad, and purchased their first ambulance, and in doing so, they created an enduring program that has served tens and thousands in need and provided hundreds of students with a unique opportunity to develop both medical and life skills.

To learn more about UVM Rescue, www.uvm.edu/~rescue.

Tanya Tersillo, the author of this story, is a first-year student and rescue volunteer.