Allegheny Students Answer the Call as Emergency Medical Technicians

Like other Allegheny College students, Victoria “Tori” Rollin and Matthew Kim strive to find the right balance between schoolwork and their outside involvements. But their extracurricular activities go well beyond what many students take on: Rollin and Kim volunteer to be on call 24/7 for the Vernon Township Fire Department as EMTs, or emergency medical technicians.

“If we are free,” meaning not in class, “we are expected to quickly move to our car and drive to the station to respond to the call,” Rollin says.

Rollin is a senior biology major and psychology minor who intends to attend physician assistant school. She was introduced to the fire department by Charlie Sliger ’16, who graduated in May. Rollin, in turn, recruited Kim, a sophomore, when the fire department put out a call for more EMTs.

Kim completed his EMT certification over the summer in his hometown, New York City, before starting his post with Vernon Township this past September. Kim is working toward majoring in biology and minoring in economics, and his plans to go to medical school motivated him to volunteer.

“I want to eventually become a trauma surgeon, but in the meantime I decided to get my EMT license to do pre-hospital medicine,” Kim says. “When I heard about Vernon Township Fire Department, I realized it would be the perfect way for me to get involved with the EMS (emergency medical services) that did not involve set shifts throughout the week.”

Though some danger comes with the nature of the volunteer work, both Rollin and Kim have had extensive training to prepare for the challenge. It also will prepare them to encounter similarly difficult situations in the medical field down the road.

Kirsten Peterson, Allegheny’s director of pre-professional studies and an instructor in global health studies, is supportive of the students’ volunteer work.

“Students who are EMTs generally develop both practical skills and good interpersonal skills. They learn how to calm a chaotic situation, to combine empathy with efficiency, and to focus on the task at hand,” Peterson says. “It is critical to know what is really involved and not just have an idealized vision about the field from television.”

Working with such emergencies means that some calls are harder than others. “The most difficult moment on a call is having someone in front of you, knowing that, no matter what you do, there isn’t anything that will bring them back,” says Kim. “We got a call for a cardiac arrest back on a NYC 911 ambulance, but upon arrival it was apparent that the patient was deceased. There was nothing else that we could do other than comfort the family members.”

Rollin finds the most difficult part of volunteering to be the unknown. “When we are called for emergency medical service, we show up to someone’s house and can walk into literally any situation,” she says. “We have to trust ourselves to handle both the medical problem and the social aspect of effectively communicating with people who are potentially at some of their worst, or lowest, points in their life. We have to be ready to walk in to overdoses and domestic-abuse cases, heart attacks, strokes, and sick infants and children. It takes being very aware, confident and trusting your gut.”

Both Rollin and Kim started out as basic EMTs but are in the process of expanding their duties. Rollin began with the Conneaut Lake Area Ambulance Service and continues to work there, along with volunteering at the fire department. She and Kim also have been asked to become certified firefighters – a process that takes 166 hours of class training, Vernon Township Fire Chief John Yount says.

Adds Rollin: “Because we are still in the process of acquiring certifications and training pertaining to the fire stuff, we are not allowed to go into a building fire yet. But there was a pretty cool moment a few weeks ago when I was directed to assist another firefighter in putting out a fire that occurred in the foundation of a home that had previously burnt down. It was exciting to be able to use the training I have acquired over the past two years.”

Yount says he appreciates the way the students hold up their end of the work with the team. “Everyone does what they’re expected to do when they’re on a call,” he says. “I’m pleased with the way everybody does everything together.”

For Kim and Rollin, balancing volunteer work with their education is especially difficult because of the unpredictable nature of calls. “There can be a week with only one call, and another week when there are multiple calls each day,” Kim says.

Rollin adds that Yount is very understanding of the fact that school does come first for them. “Although, because we have committed to serving the community, we often feel we are obligated, when we get calls, to go,” she says. “Sometimes it’s honestly just a sacrifice that we are willing to make for something we are passionate about. We really care about helping people.”

In case there are weeks with frequent emergencies, Kim manages his volunteer commitments by keeping ahead of his schoolwork. “Sometimes it gets stressful, but for the most part, with careful planning, I can do both,” he says. On top of his EMT service, Kim is also a leader with Allegheny’s Outing Club, is on the board for the Ski Club, and participates in the Pre-Med Club.

Kim is also trying to create an on-campus emergency medical service program, working with Dean of Students Kimberly Ferguson and other College staff members. “We are seriously considering the EMT program,” Ferguson says. “The College’s administration and I are evaluating the funding, training and equipment needed.”

Rollin is active on campus as the president of the Outing Club, a senator of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, captain of the Allegheny Club Ultimate Frisbee Team, and a volunteer at the Grounds for Change bistro. She is also on the ski patrol at Mount Pleasant of Edinboro Ski Resort, a position for which Kim is also in the process of getting his certification.

Both students see their involvement as the ultimate in community service. “I enjoy my work with the fire department,” Kim says. “It gives me an opportunity to do something different than a typical college student. It allows me to go out into the community and help those in need.”