AMHERST, Mass. – Student members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are using their skills and training in their home communities during this period of distance learning and absence from the Amherst campus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The students are working for ambulance companies and in emergency rooms in or near their hometowns. Some of these students are David Cellucci, a junior, who is working in the emergency room at Southshore Hospital in South Weymouth. Nina Olds works as an EMT at two agencies in New Jersey and volunteers as an EMT at a third. Brian Keefe is working for Alert Ambulance, which provides Advanced Life Support in Chicopee. Erik Bratland works for Action Ambulance, primarily working out of Springfield and Holyoke.
They all say there is a strong and direct connection between their academic classwork at UMass Amherst, the EMT training they have received and the skills they are using as they perform their jobs. “UMass has been my second home for almost three years now,” Cellucci says. “Working with UMass EMS has been an amazing experience. It gave me my first patient interactions and increased my confidence as a provider. We do everything as a team at UMass EMS, and I think that is what has prepared me the most for my job in the emergency department. Nothing is done alone and a helping hand is always appreciated.”
Bratland echoes the theme they all expressed. “During this pandemic, I am impressed by the ‘business as usual’ mindset of so many of my colleagues. These paramedics and EMTs do not think twice when it comes to showing up to work. When they get the call for ‘fever, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms,’ they don't hesitate, they put on their masks and their gowns and do the best they can,” he says.
Keefe says he has noticed something else. “The thing that has surprised me the most is that in a true emergency, no one cares if you are a 21-year-old college student or a 50-year-old career EMT. They want someone who will help them,” he says.
Robert Laford, assistant director for Emergency Management and Business Continuity in the UMass Amherst Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management Department, says it is no surprise that campus EMTs have pitched in while they are at home. “Our EMTs are a great resource on our campus, and their dedication continues when they leave us. Along with taking their remote classes many of them are working for local ambulance companies on the front lines of the COVID-19 response to support their home communities.”
He says there are also UMass EMS alumni working in hospitals around the country as nurses, doctors, physician’s assistants, firefighters and EMTs in this virus fight. “These young men and women are a great example of what makes UMass proud,” Laford says.
Olds is director of finance at UMass EMS. She is back home in New Jersey and currently works as an EMT at the Lebanon Township Fire Department and Lambertville-New Hope First Aid and Rescue. Olds is a volunteer EMT and rope rescue technician at the Whitehouse First Aid and Rescue Squad.
She says, “I came into college as an EMT with a year or year-and-a-half of experience already under my belt. However, working at UMass Amherst as an EMT has made me more confident in making decisions and leading a call, and I’ve noticed an improvement in that regard in my jobs at home. At UMass in general, I took a lot of science-based classes that showed me how the current situation works and can spiral.”
Olds says, “When I first meet my patients, I feel like there's this instant strong bond. EMTs where I work are almost always the first personnel to arrive. So, we’re the first people who make patient contact, and it struck me recently that these patients really just want someone to acknowledge that they are not okay, and they want someone who will help. And that's the bond I’ve noticed, and I’ve definitely felt it as an EMT.”
All four advise their fellow students to maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently and stay aware of the latest information about the pandemic.