Student-run campus EMS launches at UNC after years of work behind-the-scenes

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by Michael Perchick/ABC 11

UNC Campus EMS launched Thursday night, the result of a years-long effort led by students to provide additional aid and assistance.

"It's almost surreal being in that room, looking at this amazing group of students," said Jimmy Petrongelli, the founder of UNC Campus EMS.

Petrongelli first began working on this in 2017 while he was since a student; now graduated, he serves in an advisory role alongside fellow alum Erica Scherer.

"We see the outcomes really improve when people can see themselves in their own provider. So whether that's your physician or an EMT responding to a scene, I think there's a lot of benefits there because people understand there's a greater level of empathy when they know that a student may be going through a similar situation. They might be more forthcoming with information," Scherer said.

Initially, they reached out to Emergency Medical Services groups on different campuses to learn about their operations.

"We heard a lot of stories from them about how they felt people felt more comfortable calling 911 when it was their peers who were going to be answering their call. And we really saw a lot of value in creating student leadership roles within healthcare," Scherer explained.

UNC Campus EMS is comprised of 15 students, all of who are EMT-trained.

"We respond to every single type of call," said co-director Ishan Khosla, who is a senior on campus.

They operate from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, working with agencies such as campus police, Chapel Hill Fire Department, and Orange County EMS.

"We are all students. We understand what students go through. And we think that we're going to be part of an amazing EMS system that already exists and just really supplement that and make it better for students. We don't want them to feel shy or scared about calling them 911. We will advocate for them on-scene," said Khosla.

This past weekend, two UNC students died by suicide, leading the university to cancel classes Tuesday. Campus EMS is also working on mental health training in order to provide further support to students in need.

"Our role in those efforts is really to be there to let them know that they are safe in our care. And they should feel comfortable to come forward and reach out for help when they need help. Because it's clear that if somebody is able to intervene in those situations, to de-escalate the situation, or just be there for somebody in a time of need, it can really improve their outcome," said co-director Sarah Torzone, who is a junior.

They also plan on providing training and education of their own, a point of emphasis for junior Abbey Smith.

"It's very important to me that we become as an agency, incorporated into other community outreach activities such as education, trainings, CPR trainings, NARCAN trainings, which I know are in the works with the UNC Panhellenic Association," said Smith, who serves on the Community Outreach Committee.

UNC Campus EMS operates on an annual budget provided by Campus Health, and are preparing for fundraising opportunities. Students interested in joining must complete their EMT training and certification prior to applying.

Outside their work responding to calls, Campus EMS has played a role in vaccination efforts on-campus, including prior to UNC's home opener against Georgia State last month.

"I call it the little team of Avengers, because everybody's got their unique talents and very diverse skill-sets and backgrounds that they can bring to (the group)," Petrongelli said.

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