MIT has the only Class One, student-run ambulance service in the state, and on Oct. 19, the Institute dedicated a bay and bunk room in the loading dock and basement of the Stata Center to house it.
"This is a very important day in the history of our service," said Maryanne Kirkbride, clinical director for campus life in the medical department. The bay provides shelter for the ambulance, which by law must be docked indoors. EMTs can sleep in the bunk room when they are on call -- and there are people on call every night.
The Class One designation means that the ambulance is certified to transport patients to area hospitals as well as to MIT Medical. All the EMTs receive comprehensive first-aid training.
The Student Emergency Medical Society (SEMS) started in the fall of 2000 to train student EMTs. In the early spring of 2001, SEMS proposed taking over the MIT ambulance.
"Most of our EMTs and patients enjoy working with each other. For the patients it's a comfort to know that the person taking care of them is a fellow MIT student, who understands the pain and struggle of going through MIT," said Nicolas Wyhs (S.B. 2005), who, along with Mike Folkert (S.B. and S.M. 1998; Ph.D. 2005) and Sam Schweighart (S.B. 2005), founded the program.
Most of the calls are related to sports: sprains, knee injuries, etc., said Whys. Other calls are for flulike symptoms and chest pains. The MIT EMTs are trained to deal with a variety of medical emergencies.
The student ambulance can often respond faster than a traditional call to 911 since the EMTs know the campus. Additionally, many students feel more comfortable calling MIT EMTs as opposed to the city's first responders. "It lowers their barrier for calling when they need help," said Whys.
The EMTs can be summoned by calling 100 or x3-1212 from a campus phone or 617-253-1212 off campus.
According to their website, an MIT EMT is responsible for "issues in pre-hospital emergency medicine, including patient assessment, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, bleeding control, bandaging, splinting, shock management, poison control and extrication techniques."
The responsibility is huge. Last year, the roughly 60 volunteers logged 10,000 hours of service and responded to roughly 700 calls. "It really is a system in which the students are a vital component," said Bud McDonough, senior inspector with the Department of Health.
The students are expected to be there, said McDonough. "This is very hard volunteering," he said. "Part of the system depends on you."
It is a great opportunity though, he said. "The organizational management skills are real-life skills that are transferable in the future," McDonough said.
Although there are universities with Class One ambulances and also schools that have student-run services, MIT is the only school in Massachusetts that has both, said McDonough. "I'll admit I was skeptical at first," he said. "But once I was aware of the adult leadership and help they have had, my apprehension was allayed."
The project has support from the Division of Student Life, MIT Facilities, MIT Police, MIT Environmental Health and Safety, the Medical Department, the Office of the Provost and the Executive Vice President as well as the MIT Insurance Office. Former MIT President Paul Gray and his wife, Priscilla Gray, have also been supportive, donating both funds and time. The Grays attended last week's dedication.
"It has been a real group effort," said Kirkbride.
The service has been very important to the staff and student community, said Wyhs. "The service provides MIT with a group of medically knowledgeable people, which helps to promote better health throughout the community," said Wyhs. "Even while off duty, our EMTs get consulted regarding sick and injured people. These consultations help students and staff make decisions about their health and well-being, which absolutely makes MIT a safer, healthier place to live."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 26, 2005 (download PDF).