Photo by Kimberly Williams
The planned merger of Sewanee’s predominantly student-staffed Emergency Medical Service (SEMS) with Grundy County’s Emergency Medical Service (GEMS) has some volunteers and local residents concerned about the future of emergency medical care on the Domain. The plan, released on November 18 by University Provost John Swallow, indicates that the merger will take place in January 2015.A committee chaired by Laurence Alvarez recognized both the Tennessee regulation that requires a higher level of initial training for EMTs and the need for an Advanced Life Support (ALS) instead of Basic Life Support (BLS). The compromise calls for the integration of SEMS into the GEMS team, proposed to form a partnership capable of giving the local area the highest level of emergency medical care.
The change would require the 12-member SEMS team to travel with the GEMS emergency vehicles stationed at Sewanee’s Emerald-Hodgson Hospital. SEMS members on call with GEMS would have to spend their time at the hospital station instead of being able to receive calls on campus. Seth Burns, (C’15), student director of SEMS, said , “That’s the beauty of Sewanee EMS right now, you know, that we can be full-time students and have these other extra-curricular activities and still be able to serve Sewanee in that sense.”
One strength of SEMS in the eyes of students desiring the volunteer position is the opportunity to attend Sewanee as full-time students, participate in extra-curricular activities, and cultivate relationships with professors, staff, students, and community members, all while making themselves available to emergency situations. With the transition, students would have to stay at the Emerald-Hodgson station, making it difficult to respond to calls when they have prior obligations. As a result, students would have little opportunity to participate in emergency calls and would only be able to function as SEMS members about once a month, when they can sacrifice Friday or Saturday commitments. To make the integration as seamless as possible, the University and Grundy EMS will potentially share a space in the Mabel Ward building near the hospital to wait for emergency calls. If SEMS cannot respond to calls directly from the small radius surrounding the police station, the team is at risk of becoming less of a presence on campus. Eleven SEMS members live in a townhouse next to Stirling’s Coffee House, close enough to the station to respond within minutes to an emergency situation on campus.
Currently, SEMS and GEMS are both paged for emergency calls on the Domain. “[The plan has] run decently well, but the problem is that when Grundy’s dispatched (if they’re available) and we’re dispatched, there ends up being two ambulances on the scene when there doesn’t need to be,” Burns said. “I have worked in Sewanee emergency services for nearly 45 years,” said Professor of Religion Gerald Smith. “Doug Cameron, Sean Baranco, Barbara Hart, and a lot of others took SEMS from an old station wagon, a military field stretcher, and a first aid kit to a modern, dedicated EMS service… We cannot do what we do in Sewanee, we cannot be the Sewanee we know without EMS.” Burns said, “I think that’s really important to keep. I think the ‘merger’ as it is going would be pretty disastrous for us.” Burns, who grew up in Sewanee, also experienced a time before the 2011 SEMS under Police Chief Jim Parrott’s transition that limited calls to the Domain. “I’ve grown up in the blanket of Sewanee EMS protection. I think it’s something we need to continue.”
Freshman students this year are still undergoing EMT training under the impression that after receiving their certifications, they may become SEMS members. The integration with GEMS also raises the question of whether the same opportunity will be presented to next year’s freshmen.
Chief Marie Eldridge, head of the Sewanee Police Department, declined to comment. Burns said, “I think there’s a lot to be said for a service that is solely concerned with Sewanee and this area. The Sewanee community has grown to expect — rightfully so — some of the best pre-hospital care in the area. When you call 911, you expect somebody to be there within two minutes. That’s the way it’s been, guaranteed, because of our presence… I’m not by any means bashing Grundy EMS; I think they’re very professional and they do a great job, but they have other obligations as well. It’s a much larger company that’s concerned with a much larger coverage area while Sewanee EMS is concerned with one thing and one thing only, and that’s the emergency medical protection of Sewanee.”
Smith said, “There is no way to meet the complex needs of a mixed youth culture/geriatric community without a ‘right-here’ local EMS service that is focused on the unique place Sewanee is. For me, not having SEMS is unthinkable.”
To sign a document supporting continued student involvement in emergency medical situations on the Domain, visit the Sewanee EMS Facebook page.