Sarah Foster ’20 Serves Her Community as First Responder During COVID-19 Pandemic

Allegheny student Sarah Foster with a puppy
EMT Sarah Foster ’20 says she recently enjoyed some “puppy therapy” with a coworker’s dog.

Amid finishing her senior year from home and completing her Senior Project, Allegheny College biology major Sarah Foster spent 40-plus hours each week serving the Butler, Pennsylvania, community as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Before she graduated in May, Foster shared her story with Allegheny, including the transformation of one of the company’s ambulances into the “Corona Express” to help protect her and her co-workers. Read about Foster’s experiences — in her own words:

“I have been working as an EMT for about 2 years. I work in Meadville during the school year, but my primary station is Butler Ambulance Service (BAS) in Butler, PA. When we were sent home for spring break, I started back at BAS full time and have been working 40-50+ hours a week since I’ve been home. It has been hard managing my time with school and work and I did not expect to be working as much as I am. As a senior, it took me a while to get over the sadness I was feeling about my undergrad career being cut short. But, I recently passed my comp (Woohooo!!!) and turned in some big assignments and feel that I am starting to get in the swing of things. Additionally, as a first responder, I am having a unique pandemic experience. Most of my friends and family are staying quarantined or working from home, but not me! I enjoy getting out of the house and socializing with coworkers (from a safe 6 feet apart of course!) But, with the seriousness of the situation, I have a big responsibility to keep those around me safe.

“Despite the anxiety I feel on a daily basis, I am proud to be a first responder.”

—Sarah Foster

I have lost track of how many confirmed cases we have at the local hospital. It scares me that I walk through the same halls these patients have been transported through, enter rooms where these patients may have coughed or sneezed, and interacted with potentially asymptomatic patients and could already be a carrier myself. I believe I can speak for all health care professionals and say this is not what we signed up for. Yes, we are all driven to help those in need, heal the sick, comfort the dying … but we did not ask to put our lives on the line. In addition, my work has told us to be cognizant of the number of masks we are using. Apparently supplies are dwindling and they are unable to order more. There are protocol changes every day, each facility we go to wants us to do something different, I am constantly taking my temperature, it is all just a lot right now. I am doing my best to stay safe, but it is stressful!! A lot of family members and friends have encouraged me to stop working, but I can’t. And constantly being reminded how at risk I am and how unsafe it is to be working is doing more harm than good. I suppose I could stop working, but could you imagine where we’d be if all health care providers just threw in the towel? Despite the anxiety I feel on a daily basis, I am proud to be a first responder.

Allegheny student and EMT Sarah Foster standing in an ambulance
Sarah Foster in the “Corona Express” — an ambulance that she and her co-workers outfitted with protective measures to transport COVID-19 patients.

When our company had our first confirmed patient, we transformed one of our ambulances into what I like to call the Corona Express. There is plastic sheeting throughout the whole back with limited supplies available. This truck is only being used for interfacility transports of confirmed or suspected cases. Afterwards, the back is decontaminated with NDC spray. When we do get a confirmed or suspected patient, both on a 911 call or interfacility transport, crew members are required to don appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes a gown, gloves, N-95 mask, eye protection, hair net, and boot covers. I have only had to put all of these items on a few times, but it is not a great experience. I commend health care workers, particularly those in the ER who are required to wear these all the time!!

To ease some anxiety the other day at work, my coworker and I walked some laps around our station. Our call volume has been down lately, so we had a few spare minutes to get in some exercise. A mother and her two kids drove up next to us and handed us some snacks and goodies. They thanked us for working and our selfless efforts to keep the community safe. Our station is getting cloth masks donated, meals delivered, and thank you notes sent to us on a daily basis. The field of EMS is not often recognized and I think many community members are just now realizing how essential we are. I am exceedingly proud to be doing what I am in these times. More than anything, this experience has solidified my passion for medicine and desire to some day be an advanced health care provider.”