Some students prepare for medical school by studying organic chemistry, taking a Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) prep course or interning at a doctor’s office. Others, like the 16 UCSB student emergency medical technicians, save lives on a daily basis.
The EMTs work an average of two 24-hour shifts per month as a team called Rescue Seven. They respond to emergency calls from UCSB and Isla Vista, gaining practical medical experience while working with paramedics and firefighters out of the UC Police Dept.
EMTs usually respond to two to three calls per shift, and most of the calls pertain to bike accidents, drug and alcohol incidents, and falls from cliffs, EMT Lenea Bearding said.
“You never know what to expect,” EMT Michael McIndoe said. “Controlling your emotions is the key part. [Rescue] has made me want to be a paramedic for a career, but anybody, no matter what their career intentions are, gains a lot.”
Joe Bloom, the paramedic program supervisor, recently hired six new EMTs for next year. The 30 applicants went through extensive interviews, tests, background checks and a ride-along to see how they reacted in high-stress situations.
“I’ve picked the cream of the crop,” Bloom said. “If I had to send a loved one off to school, I would sleep better knowing this service is available to them.”
Bloom said the rescue team works out of the police department, and incidents are kept confidential.
“Rescue does not share information,” Bloom said. “We’re about helping people, not trying to get them in trouble.”
The student EMT program began in 1972 and UCSB is still the only UC campus to employ and station student EMTs.
Students can obtain an EMT license after completing a class offered at Santa Barbara City College and testing for an ambulance driver’s license at the DMV in order to apply to Rescue. The paramedic drives the ambulance, while the EMT takes the patient’s vital signs and does an initial assessment in the back, but in a life-threatening situation, the EMT takes the wheel so the paramedic can administer injections.
“Driving the ambulance is scary, but saving someone’s life is like no other experience,” said junior biology major Andrea Satz, who has been a Rescue Seven member for a year. “It’s probably the biggest adrenaline rush in my whole life.”
Satz said her most challenging shift was responding to a call after a 2-year old fell out of a second-story window in Isla Vista. She drove the ambulance while the baby’s father rode next to her sobbing.
“The families in Isla Vista are another population of the community we serve,” Bearding said. “It made me think of Isla Vista in a different way after seeing how some of these families live and being able to help them.”
Local doctor David Phreaner has been practicing medicine for six years, but began his medical training as a UCSB student EMT in 1988.
“Rescue was my first practical work in the medical field and it was a very beneficial and wonderful experience,” Phreaner said. “It got me excited about going to medical school and helped me learn to be calm in intense situations.”
While not all the EMTs are med school-bound, they agreed that working at Rescue Seven has taught them compassion, stress management and the lessons of medicine that cannot be learned from a textbook.