Virginia Tech Rescue Squad looks toward sustainable future

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The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is leading the way in a nationwide trend of collegiate medical services groups looking for ways to reduce their sustainable footprint.

The squad is planning to implement several new initiatives, beginning with an energy audit to better understand and mitigate waste in daily operations.

“Emergency vehicles require a great deal of energy from onboard batteries to maintain onboard electronics and other operations. They must be idled with engines on during calls to sustain key resources inside the vehicle that are used in patient care,” said Rescue Squad Chief Chris Eyestone, who is working on securing funding for the initiative. Eyestone is a junior studying agribusiness and international studies from Blacksburg, Virginia.

“All of our endeavors are really a win-win for us because it allows us to save on financial costs and it also allows us to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Kyung Lee of Alexandria, Virginia, a senior studying mechanical engineering and the Financial Officer of the Rescue Squad.

Adding solar panels to the top of the agency’s three ambulances is one of Eyestone's top priorities. This measure alone is expected to squad’s carbon footprint by up to 10 percent annually according to EPA and Emergency Services data.

While emissions reducing practices like solar panels are an important step, the squad’s leadership is always working to build awareness and education for the 45 squad members to focus on simple waste-reduction measures like unplugging unused electronics and turning off lights.

As is the case with any rescue squad, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is staffed around the clock, 365 days per year.  Because the agency has 24-hour electricity needs, curbing usage and implementing other energy saving techniques for use during daily station life is a top goal.  Squad leaders are also hoping that visible and tactile reminders to be green will help every member feel like an important part of the sustainability effort.

The squad also plans to improve its existing administrative operations to be more efficient and paperless, coupled with electronic call reporting software, adopted a few years ago.

“Progress like this is not without its challenges but it’s very important we work to understand and reduce the long term implications of our decisions today,” Eyestone said. 

Fifteen members of the rescue squad recently returned from the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF) conference in Philadelphia where the group won several awards. At the conference, Eyestone presented on some of the best practices and new innovations in sustainability that are particularly relevant to Emergency Medical Services like the squad provides.  Solar panels and lighter, more efficient ambulances were prominent in discussion as well as more efficient procurement and management of medical equipment used on calls.

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