In Case of Emergency
Frostbite, intoxication, assault, depression, broken bones: The licensed and certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs) of the student-run Dartmouth Emergency Medical Services (DEMS) have handled them all.
“Every call is different,” says the team’s executive director, Kelly Rutherford ’23, an economics and history major. “It’s our responsibility to read the environment and best help the patient, based on our training.”
The most common calls involve intoxication, head injuries, and mental health issues, according to operations director Molly Rudman ’23. “We have a lot of training about how to provide compassionate and empathetic care,” says the premed biology major. “We have a unique perspective and understanding of the stressors that occur on this campus and can connect with patients in a way that non-students might not be able to.”
Founded in 1991 and licensed by the state, the service is one of more than 250 student-run emergency medical services operations at campuses across the country. DEMS responds to emergencies throughout its coverage area—which extends beyond the campus into town. EMTs have treated students, staff, faculty, visitors, and the general public. Campus Safety & Security dispatches the EMTs to virtually every call and usually answers calls with them, according to Doug Babcock, the department’s associate director. In the case of a risk of violence or an environmental hazard, such as from a fire, the EMTs are dispatched but told to wait until police or fire commanders declare the scene safe.
In 2018, the last school year prior to Covid, DEMS responded to 192 calls, with an average response time of three minutes. For 125 of those calls the Hanover Fire Department did not need to provide transport to the hospital, so its ambulance service remained available in case of other emergencies. “DEMS provides a valuable service, and it’s not only to the campus but to the community, because they are very effective at being a level of triage,” Babcock says. “They have the medical expertise, competency, and confidence to say, ‘This person is medically stable and doesn’t need an ambulance.’ ”
Dartmouth assured DEMS a $40,000 budget for the coming fiscal year, but the group hopes to secure long-term funding to support its operations, which include managing all College-owned public-access defibrillators and conducting first aid and CPR training. During the pandemic, DEMS lost significant revenue when they could not teach classes—which they offer on campus and to local residents. DEMS also faced high repair costs for its 2016 Ford Explorer, which needs to be replaced, according to Babcock.
Each of the 38 EMTs in the 91-member organization works about 12 hours a week—covering overnight shifts from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and on standby at sporting events and other public gatherings such as the Homecoming bonfire, Winter Carnival’s polar plunge, and Green Key. “It’s been such an important part of realizing I want to be a doctor,” says Giulia Barbella ’24, director of training for DEMS.
“The scenes they’re called to, they’re the real deal. The decisions they have to make, the dedication they show, and the stakes, that’s real-world experience,” Babcock says. “Having to direct multiple resources under crisis—such as ‘I need this piece of equipment, I need you to communicate with the incoming ambulance or establish scene security’—are all executive decisions that have to be made under pressure and have to be made right. It’s really formative in terms of taking charge and leadership.”