Bucknell students SERV the community by helping to put out fires

on .

The Daily Item

By Michelle Dombeck

LEWISBURG — On a lazy, overcast afternoon in Lewisburg last summer, Nikolas Keramidas received an emergency call: "Vehicle accident — injuries unknown."

A member of the William Cameron Engine Company, Keramidas immediately hopped on a rescue truck and went to the scene with other volunteers. Thirty minutes later, he was using the "jaws of life" rescue tool to pry a mother and her two children from a car that had been involved in an accident.

Thanks to the teamwork of all the company members, no one was seriously injured.

Keramidas makes a serious contribution to the William Cameron company, even though he isn’t a full-time firefighter or emergency medical technician.

He’s a senior in chemical engineering at Bucknell University who became an emergency response volunteer through a Bucknell-run program called SERV, which trains students to be certified EMTs and firefighters.

"It can be tough," Keramidas said. "Sometimes you have to get up for a call in the middle of the night and then go to class in the morning. But it’s definitely worth it. It’s a great feeling to help someone in need."

While Keramidas’ potentially life-saving efforts might be unusual for a college student, he’s not the only Bucknell student volunteer working with the William Cameron Engine Company. SERV has 38 student members, a third of whom are first-year students. SERV members are trained by university staff and live together in a small, university-owned house on campus.

SERV members make up a substantial part of the volunteer staff of the William Cameron, a volunteer fire department that serves Lewisburg and surrounding areas.

"They’re very valuable," says Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hoban. "Without them, we’d have a hard time maintaining our staff."

Initially created as a quick-response team for on-campus emergency calls, SERV extends its services to the Lewisburg community. Because most members of the William Cameron company have full-time jobs, students make up a vital component of the station and answer many calls during the day.

Living together in Martin House, a special-interest house on the edge of campus, also helps the SERV members respond quickly. "It really works out well," said Dan Remley, Bucknell’s director of housing and residential life.

When early-morning emergency calls come in, "They can get there (to the emergency site) early and set things up appropriately," Remley said. That’s because the SERV members are often already awake "in the wee hours," are already in a group and may be closest to the scene, he said.

Sometimes, Remley said, the students arrive first at a fire scene, and "they literally lay the hoses down and begin the fire attack before the other volunteer firefighters get there."

As an officially recognized campus organization, SERV has its own adviser, Mike Purcell, who is assistant to the director of housing and residential life. Of the SERV members returning this year, "Their commitment and dedication have been outstanding," he said. "I hope it’s something that will be passed on to our new members, and I’m confident it will be."

The William Cameron company’s official policy is that school and classes come first for student members, but faculty members are understanding when an emergency call comes in during a class.

"We have pagers on us all the time and take them with us to class," Keramidas said. "When they go off, we can tell how important the call is. If it’s major, we may leave class. But it’s a personal decision."

Students are not required to answer calls, but they need to attend a certain number of training sessions to stay active members. Most student members help out at the station and do much more than is required. For many, the station is like another home.

"We’re really close and look out for each other," said SERV member Patty Alex, a junior majoring in history and international relations. "One of my fondest memories freshman year is when a bunch of us couldn’t go home for Easter, so the station made us Easter dinner."

The love of the station and helping others are the reasons why so many students stay in SERV.

"We do this because we enjoy it — we genuinely want to do it," Keramidas said. "We try to do as much as we can. That’s why we exist — to be a helpful hand."

Michelle Dombeck is a Bucknell University junior majoring in English and comparative humanities. She is the associate editor of Bucknell’s campus newspaper, The Bucknellian.

Member Login