On January 23, 1997, Kevin Eidt, a Boston College freshman, went into cardiac arrest and suddenly collapsed during an intramural basketball game. After no one around was able to perform CPR, BC student and certified EMT Mark Ritchie, A&S ’00, rushed from one court over to step in before paramedics arrived to transport him to the hospital, where he ultimately passed away due to heart failure.
This heartbreaking tragedy revealed what Boston College was lacking: a campuswide knowledge of heart-saving procedures that might have saved Kevin’s life. Determined to decrease the likelihood of any more cardiac-related deaths on campus, Mark Ritchie founded Eagle Emergency Medical Services (now BC EMS), a quick response EMT organization to provide life-saving medical care to members of the BC community.
Over the past 25 years, BC EMS has sustained its goal of promoting a safe campus environment by providing reliable emergency services and healthcare education. By regularly conducting CPR classes, hosting an annual CPR marathon, and running tabling events for heart-safe CPR, BC EMS remains grounded in its founding mission of empowering the campus community with vital knowledge and skills. As one of the only entirely student-run organizations on campus, BC EMS is completely self-sufficient. Its six-member E-Board fulfills a range of responsibilities, from managing day-to-day operations to communicating with university officials, all without the oversight of a faculty advisor.
“While the responsibility is daunting at times, it creates a unique opportunity for us to navigate adult choices and decide what’s right for us as an organization,” says Cait Vasington, Director of Operations, MCAS ‘21.
Based in Maloney Hall, BC EMS provides the same level of medical care as a professional ambulance service without the wait time. While the team is unable to transport patients to the hospital, their ability to quickly respond to calls anywhere on campus allows them to provide immediate critical support until a transporting ambulance can arrive.
In addition to addressing the immediate emergency health concerns of the campus community, BC EMS takes the Boston College tradition of “men and women for others” a step further through its commitment to providing comprehensive, non-judgmental patient care. As a volunteer organization, BC EMS is sustained by the selflessness of its members. While the work can be emotionally and physically draining, EMTs dedicate their time out of a genuine desire to serve the BC community, helping them to remain resilient through long shifts.
“It’s not an easy line of work,” President Brooke Barlow, MCAS ‘21, points out, “but knowing that you’re making someone’s life better is extremely rewarding.”
This approach, rooted in respect and trust, shapes how BC EMS responds to every call, from traumatic injuries and anaphylactic reactions to mental health emergencies and alcohol-related issues.
“We provide care to everyone,” Barlow adds. “We don’t care who you are or what you’re doing. Our primary goal is making sure you are safe and healthy.”
This commitment to providing confidential care without judgement or ridicule allows members of BC EMS to serve as allies to the patients they are serving. “In many cases we see people when they’re at their most vulnerable,” Vasington says. “We continuously emphasize to our members that this opportunity to serve as a healthcare provider is a privilege.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, BC EMS has worked to adapt its operations to continue to provide high-quality emergency care while protecting the safety of its members and the people it serves. Before every shift, all EMTs must fill out a screening form, complete a symptom report, and get their temperature checked. Once at the site of the emergency, patient contact is limited to one person to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission (except in the case of life threatening emergencies), and crew members are required to sanitize all contaminated surfaces after every call.
As the recruitment phase for new EMTs is underway, challenges include figuring out how to adapt member education and training while ensuring that there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE)––specifically N95 masks––for all members. While navigating these additional safety protocols has been complicated, members of BC EMS are dedicated to serving the BC community during this difficult transition.
“We want to stress to everyone on campus that this is something that we’re taking really seriously,” Vasington says. “During this time of fear and uncertainty, we are ready to respond when people need us.”
As we continue to navigate ways to protect the health and safety of our communities in the coming months, BC EMS reminds us that caring, compassionate help is just a phone call away. If you or someone else is in need of medical assistance, call the BC Police Emergency Line at (617)-552-4444, and they will connect you to BC EMS. To learn more about their work, visit the team website here.