Rowan team long ready to handle emergencies

on .

The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Louise Harbach
Inquirer Suburban Staff

Although Rich Wadleigh isn't thrilled by one record set last year by Rowan University's emergency medical services squad, the associate director of public safety is quite delighted by another milestone.

In 2002, the all-volunteer EMS squad directed by Wadleigh responded to a record 257 calls.

"More calls are to be expected because of the growing number of students and employees on campus," Wadleigh said of the more than 9,000 students and 2,000 employees at the Glassboro school.

But what makes Wadleigh smile is that the school's EMS squad is celebrating its 25th birthday, making it one of the oldest collegiate emergency squads in the nation.

"We're the second-oldest collegiate emergency-response squad in the state and the only one that is still run by student volunteers," said Wadleigh, the squad's adviser for 15 years.

Students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, started a squad in 1977, a year before Rowan, but paid EMS professionals now respond to calls there. Other schools in New Jersey with emergency units include Montclair State University, Ramapo College, Seton Hall University, and the College of New Jersey.

In addition to Wadleigh, a trained emergency medical technician, the Rowan squad is made up of about 25 volunteers, including 13 who are trained EMTs. The remainder have received specialized training in CPR and first aid.

Although Dartmouth College's ski patrol was founded in 1940 and Pennsylvania State University's EMS squad was started in 1956, most collegiate emergency response groups were established in the 1980s and 1990s, said Gary Koenig, the head of the National Collegiate Emergency Services Foundation, of which Rowan is a member.

About 200 colleges and universities nationwide are members of the group, which will honor Rowan on Saturday at its annual convention to be held this year in Washington.

"Not as many collegiate emergency squads got their start in the 1970s because emergency response is a relatively new system stemming, in part, from post-Vietnam research," said Koenig, who estimated that up to 400 campuses nationwide had their own emergency-response units. "The formation of such groups really didn't pick up until the 1980s."

But more colleges and universities in the future are likely to start EMS squads because of growing concern about the safety of students, Koenig said.

"Colleges also are starting their own squads because they have found that, often, emergency-squad personnel who may not be familiar with the campus have trouble navigating it," he explained. "They're obviously not as familiar with the campus as those living and working there."

About 40 percent of the members of the national group have their own ambulances, including Rowan.

"We have everything in it that we have to have, including a defibrillator," Wadleigh said of the ambulance, which was purchased by Rowan's student government association.

With a campus comprising more than 280 acres and 45 buildings, having emergency medical services on campus is a necessity, said Wadleigh, who had been director of campus security at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., before coming to Rowan.

"We really know this campus, and we even have a bicycle EMS unit, whose members can get to a location faster than we can get there with an ambulance," he said of the calls, which are mostly for illnesses and suspected fractures.

"Luckily, we get a low number of true emergencies," Wadleigh said.

"We ask a lot of these student volunteers," he said. "They give freely of their spare time, and they can - and do - save lives."

During the academic year, the squad works like any neighborhood emergency group, handling duties that range from transporting ill students or staff to the hospital to cardiac emergencies. In addition, the unit is on standby during athletic and other university events, such as homecoming and graduation.

When school is in session, squad members sign up for duty shifts, which range from 12-hour weekday shifts to 24-hour weekend shifts, with each shift including at least one EMT volunteer and one driver.

Once Rowan's public-safety communication center takes a call, the members on duty receive a page to respond. For situations requiring advanced life support, the Rowan dispatcher or the EMS crew, just like any municipal squad, notifies Gloucester County for the paramedics. Glassboro's emergency medical service covers the campus when Rowan's squad is out of service.

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