Waiting by the Phone

on .

The Daily Bruin Online

Emergency medical technicians pass hours anticipating chance to put skills into action

By Jennifer K. Morita

Daily Bruin Staff

They admit they're ghoulish and grin when they say it.

They wait anxiously for emergencies. When their radios beep, they say they start to pant like Pavlov's dogs.

They are the 12 UCLA students who operate EMS-1 - UCLA's blue and gold ambulance - as part of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program that offers medical assistance on campus and throughout the university community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

The Emergency Medical Services program has been on campus since 1979, when the UCLA Police Department trained a small group of police officers to be Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Students took over the program in 1981.

"Before the inception of the program, we had to rely on the Los Angeles City Fire Department which, because we are so large and because of the frequency of calls, the timing was not satisfactory," said Scott Martin, director of the program, adding that the response time to a call from UCLA used to average about eight to 10 minutes.

"Because we have an ambulance that is staffed at all times, we (now) have an average response time of about two minutes," Martin said. "It makes a big difference if an individual is having a heart attack or major complications due to injury or illness."

UCLA's EMS-1 has a response time half that of the Los Angeles City Fire Department and responds to about 1,000 calls a year, Martin said.

"They're the students, and because of that, they know the campus quite well, so their familiarity with campus geography is very beneficial for a timely response," Martin said.

In addition, Emergency Medical Services employees operate the campus lost and found service, as well as staff the police station's front desk, assisting people who come to the window for information.

Emergency medical technicians are also trained to take police reports and respond to calls that don't involve a crime that occurred against a person, such as a stolen car, Martin said.

"It's very much a service to the student community," he said.

About 42 percent of UCLA's calls to Emergency Medical Services in 1995 were from students, 12 percent were from UCLA staff and 46 percent were from people who happened to be on campus.

Although most of the program's funding comes from state funds, there is some revenue coming in through transport fees, Martin explained. Typically, a patient's healthcare provider or insurance company will pay for the cost of transporting the patient to the hospital in EMS-1.

"Currently, our transport fees are well below the City of Los Angeles standards," said Martin. "We keep the cost down for the students and whoever else needs the program."

Emergency medical technicians usually work between 20 and 40 hours each week, many times taking late shifts from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning. A small room in the police station holds two bunk beds, where the medics can sleep while waiting for any emergency calls.

"We love our job," said Brian Kinsley, one of the technicians. "I've never heard of any of (the EMTs) not wanting to come in to work."

The emergency medical technicians are a close-knit group, going into Westwood together to grab a bite to eat or hanging out at the station with their colleagues even when they are not on duty.

"This kind of job makes you real close and real personal," said EMS administrative assistant Peter Dell, who is also training to be a technician. "We're family."

And as a family, they provide support for each other in a job that has a high stress factor.

"When we get a major call where there is a high amount of traumatic stuff happening, my first concern is to the patients and getting them taken care of," Kinsley said. "But after it's over, my main concern is for the EMTs."

Clayton Kazan, a fourth-year biology student who has been an EMS-1 technician since his second year, said he has gone on two cardiac arrest calls.

"I lost both," Kazan said. "One patient we came real close - we got an irregular breath back and then we lost it again and he died. And then there was a while there last quarter when we had about five suicides and they were all in ugly ways.

"I've had to see a lot of stuff, but I don't have much of a problem dealing with it as long as I feel confident about what I did and that I did all I could've done," said Kazan.

The technicians deal with the stress by talking to each other, they said.

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