As the COVID-19 pandemic tore across the United States this past year, national attention zeroed in on the plight of first responders and other frontline workers. On National First Responders Day—which honors first responders each year on Oct. 28—Boston College Emergency Medical Services plans to celebrate the same way that they usually do: going to work.
“We never have any big parties or anything,” said Brian Coyne, BCEMS public relations coordinator and MCAS ’23. “We just, you know, go to work like we would any other day.”
But this year, going back to work looks a little different for members of BCEMS, BC’s student-run emergency medical care provider. Members returned to campus in August for BCEMS’s 25th year of service to changed responsibilities, including the addition of COVID-19 testing, and other modifications to their day-to-day procedures.
“We’ve kind of become a jack of all trades,” said Brooke Barlow, BCEMS president and MCAS ’21. “We all got trained on how to perform COVID tests, and you probably saw at least some of our members when you went in for your COVID tests. And they’re still volunteering here and there in the MAC court.”
BCEMS was particularly involved during student move-in at the start of the semester, when University Health Services administered 17,808 tests to the BC community. Around half of BCEMS members volunteered their time to help with testing, according to Coyne.
“It was a big task, and they were running these clinics around the clock,” Coyne said. “So I’m really proud of how our organization stepped up.”
In an effort to minimize COVID-19 exposure, members of BCEMS now have to wear proper personal protective equipment, including a mask and face shield, as well as limit patient contact, according to Kevin Caggiano, another BCEMS public relations coordinator and MCAS ’22. They’ve also increased the sanitization of their ambulance and the rest of their equipment, Coyne said.
“We gotta clean everything now,” Coyne said. “Everything that we touch, every door handle, the seats in our ambulance, every zipper on the bags, you know, everything has to be cleaned afterwards, which is a little tedious but necessary to keep everyone safe.”
Back in March, as the virus made its way across the Eastern Seaboard, Boston-area hospitals struggling with shortages of personal protective equipment turned to BCEMS for help.
“When COVID really started coming in, a lot of the hospitals were running out of N95s, different masks, face shields, a lot of stuff,” Caggiano said. “We had actual hospitals and EMS organizations around the Boston area reaching out to us in our email, saying, ‘Hey, we’re low on, you know, N-95 respirators, do you guys have any that you could help us out with?’”
BCEMS, who no longer had a need for their own equipment after BC sent students home, decided to donate all of their remaining personal protective equipment to local hospitals, according to Barlow.
“Thankfully we were able to replace it, but yeah, at the time, it didn’t make sense for us to just keep it in a closet when people were actively exposing themselves to COVID and didn’t have it,” Barlow said.
Since returning to campus, BCEMS said that the pandemic has also resulted in an uptick in mental health-related calls, Barlow said.
“We’ve definitely been seeing an increase in anxiety-related calls and things like that, which we expected given, you know, living in the stresses of the pandemic and BC’s ever-fluctuating sort of procedures,” Barlow said.
This academic year marks the 25th anniversary of BCEMS, which was established following the passing of freshman Kevin Eidt, BC ’00, from cardiac arrest on Jan. 23, 1997.
Eidt collapsed during the final seconds of an intramural basketball game at the Flynn Recreation Complex. Mark Ritchie, a certified emergency medical technician and BC ’00, who happened to be playing volleyball at an adjacent court, rushed to his side and attempted to revive Eidt until paramedics arrived. Eidt was later pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton.
This experience motivated Richie to lobby for an on-campus quick response organization. BCEMS—originally called Eagle EMS—began that following September, Barlow said.
“Mark Ritchie was like, ‘This was totally preventable,” Barlow said. “Like if we had had some sort of organization that was able to come and provide early CPR, early defibrillation, this student might not have passed away.’”
In honor of Eidt, BCEMS designed new patches marked with his initials and added them to their uniforms this year, Coyne said.
“I think the 25th anniversary really is to celebrate Kevin [Eidt], and not necessarily the organization itself,” Coyne said. “We’ve come out with new patches this year that have Kevin’s initials on them, and really celebrate him and make sure he’s always remembered because our main mission is to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
Despite the difficulty and unpredictability this year brings, Caggiano said that he is proud of how BCEMS continues to come together in support of one another and the BC community.
“I think just really to highlight how great of a community we have here,” Caggiano said. “And then especially with everything going on, how it’s just been difficult, but you know, the community is getting us through it.”
Featured Image by Leo Wang / Heights Staff