The Unsung and Unpaid: FUEMS -Not all heroes wear capes-
By: Bria McNeal
Picture this. It’s 2:30 am on one of those nights where Friday is bleeding into the early hours of Saturday morning. You’ve been hanging out at a bar with your friends, laughing and dancing with absolutely no regard for the flashing red lights flying by. Someone got FUEMed and you can already hear the whispers about a student who was too out of sorts to get home. “They’re probably fine,” you think to yourself, “FUEMS has it under control.”
Luckily for us, this assumption is true more often than not. All it takes is one phone call and a group of student EMTs will show in six minutes or less.
While we’re out partying, volunteer students spend their night behind a tiny door underneath Queens court. Inside you’ll find a large couch, pillows, blankets, walkie-talkies, take-out containers, a lot of coffee, and a group of volunteers ready to spring into action.
Fordham EMTs (emergency medical technician) are dedicated to their practice. They were even named top collegiate EMS Organization of the year this March - yet hardly anyone knows. They work up to 50 hours a week - yet they don’t get paid. They are the heroes we often forget, but each of them have stories of their own. This is Fordham FUEMS.
I met Janee Dovela during my freshman year. She lived across the hall and was kind, funny, and far too smart for her own good. We quickly became friends and bonded over our hopes for the next four years; but neither of us could’ve guessed that she would end up working for an organization that would one day save her life.
During our first Halloween on campus, Janee and I went out to dinner with a group of friends. Due to her severe dairy allergy, she politely asked the chefs to cook her food separately from ours. They didn’t.
Not even an hour later, while everyone was getting ready for the night ahead, Janee started sensing symptoms of an allergic reaction. She went to the bathroom and texted a friend for help. By the time they found her, Janee was barely conscious. Thankfully FUEMS was able to respond quickly, administer an epipen, and take her to a local hospital to be stabilized.
That was three years ago. Today Janee sits in the FUEMS office across from our freshman dorm amongst other EMTs. With her, you can typically find Michael Aman, Alexis Verwoert, and Patrick Dineen. They are students just like us with social lives, extracurriculars, and hectic class schedules. But nevertheless, they spend a majority of their time waiting for a call to help a student in need.
(Patrick Dinnen, Janee Dovela, Alexis Verwoert, and Michael Aman - left to right)
Take Michael Aman, for example - a senior biology student who spent about 32 hours working last week. Though most shifts occur during the day, each EMT is required to do at least one overnight a week and sleep in their office (in order to respond to those late night calls). Michael, however, will sometimes work up to four overnight shifts a week.
“I probably spend a little too much time doing FUEMS work… Or at least that’s what I’m told,” he says, “When I’m on duty I’m often doing homework or studying. Otherwise I’d have no real time to do enough work to stay afloat academically.”
Patrick Dineen, an Urban Studies major and cross country runner says, “My least favorite part is getting a call at 2:30 in the morning on a weeknight and having a 7:30 am practice a couple hours later.” Even so, you can still find him in the FUEMS office at least 3 times a week.
Both Michael and Patrick volunteer as EMTs along with Janee and Alexis, but students can choose to train for other positions as well. EMTs have to take a semester-long course that teaches them patient procedures. Aspiring drivers, however, go through a different process. They learn the routes to every local hospital which takes a minimum of 8 hours. This is followed by a 40-day ride-along period with current drivers. Additionally, crew chiefs, who are in charge of volunteer staff, must also complete the EMT course followed by months of evaluations before getting approved.
Volunteer positions are unpaid, but current workers agree that the experiences they gain are worth more than a paycheck. Alexis Verwoert, a senior biology major says, “My favorite part about being an EMT is being able to provide some amount of comfort and calmness on what is usually a patient's worst day.”
However, in order to do so, she must be prepared to face any circumstance with a professional attitude. “While it is fulfilling to be able to comfort patients in their times of need, I am not a robot,” she says. “I feel the emotions of each of my patients, and the hardest part of interacting with so many people is learning how to separate their feelings from my own.”
Though EMTs get a brief description for each call, they can never truly anticipate what they’ll walk into. Their job can be stressful and scary, but worth the challenge. As Janee says, “There will be times that really test you, and people that really test you, but it will make you stronger. What you do is important. Don’t lose sight of that.”
Above all, FUEMS is a part of our Fordham family with more compassion for us than we probably deserve. So the next time you see those flashing red lights rushing through the streets, take a moment to remember the brave volunteers - ready to save the day.