Times Union - Life and Leisure Section, Page D1
By Michael Lopez
This could be any student lounge or college dorm room: It is midterm week in late October, and Adam Olsen, sprawled on the bed, is studying for tomorrow's test while other students are watching ``Boyz 'N the Hood.''
Then, in a flash, a loud insistent alarm signals that ordinary college life is about to dramatically shift for these students, members of the University at Albany's student-run Five Quad Volunteer Ambulance Service.
Four students bolt, and in a matter of seconds, Olsen, 20, is behind the wheel of an ambulance, siren wailing, as it rumbles down the skull-jolting cobblestone road at the state university.
An hour before, a young woman fell down several steps of the Campus Center, and now, her left leg, arm and lower back are seized with pain.
After the ambulance arrives, A.J. Klimek, the crew chief, asks the woman a series of questions -- ``What happened?'' ``Did you get knocked out?'' ``Do you remember all the events?'' These are standard inquiries meant to check her physical condition and her lucidity.
The injured theater student is put on a stretcher and then rolled from the Performing Arts Building to the ambulance. Inside, Klimek asks her questions about her medical history, and Robin Stein takes her pulse and blood pressure. When the crew arrives at the University Health Center, doctors take over.
Desire to help
``I love being out there, helping people, I love being in the middle of the action. It's in the blood,'' says Klimek, a 23-year-old senior. Without any hint of bravado, he says, ``I get an adrenalin rush, but it's not what it used to be; I've been doing this game for a while.'' Klimek has been with Five Quad for two years, but has been an emergency medical technician for five, riding with the volunteer ambulance and fire department in his hometown of Schuyler.
There, he has seen people in cardiac arrest, and kids his own age killed in a car crash. His father, Anthony, is the fire chief. ``I've been running calls since I was 3 years old,'' he says. ``I was born into it.''
Klimek is one of the 99 members of Five Quad, about 40 percent of whom are women. They are motivated, in part, by a drive to help, the thrill of the work and their future -- Five Quad has graduated doctors and health administrators from among its ranks.
Five Quad is one of the largest such squads in New York state, where 35 colleges host student-run emergency services. Students at 201 colleges and universities nationwide offer some degree of medical help or are in the process of forming squads, according to the National Collegiate EMS Foundation.
``Some people, if something is going on by the roadside, pull over to help, and there's the other half of society that just doesn't. These guys are in the first half,'' said Dr. Marc Stern, Five Quad's medical adviser and the first student to sign up as a volunteer in 1972. Stern is also an associate professor of medicine at Albany Medical College and medical director at Albany County Correctional Facility.
In his first days as a junior at UAlbany in 1972, Five Quad co-founder Barry Bashkoff watched an injured football player languish on the sidelines for 20 minutes, before a police car finally showed up. A patrolman then decided to call an ambulance.
``I just thought that was too long,'' said Bashkoff, who was a volunteer firefighter on Long Island before transferring to UAlbany. Bashkoff, 48, has made a career in the health field, and now sells ambulances at Cromwell Emergency Vehicles in Clifton Park.
Bashkoff, Stern and a few other students spent a year and a half, trying to convince a skittish university administration that they were committed to starting an ambulance service. At one point, students wheeled five vans and ambulances, in various states of disrepair, to university entrances to draw attention to their cause. Five Quad officially began in October 1973.
Today, the service has a $72,000 budget funded by student activity fees and, as one of the most popular student organizations, turns away an overflow of volunteers. Five Quad responds within an average of one to two minutes at the uptown campus, five to six minutes if the call comes from downtown buildings. Members also respond to calls within a five-mile radius of campus and provides backup for Western Turnpike Rescue Squad.
Five Quad trains students to become emergency medical technicians and requires experienced EMTs -- students, for instance, already serving in their hometown ambulance squads -- to earn their stripes as dispatcher trainees, before progressing to EMT attendants, drivers and crew chiefs.