Since 1992, the UD Rescue Squad has saved lives — and launched students’ medical careers
When senior marketing major Sean Ferguson was struck by lightning last April while walking across a campus parking lot, an ambulance crew of trained student volunteers raced to his aid.
They most likely saved his life.
The UD Rescue Squad was on the scene within minutes, took over from the bystanders who were administering CPR, and coordinated with the Dayton Fire Department to transport Ferguson to Miami Valley Hospital.
“There are individuals who are alive today who wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the presence of that rescue squad on our campus,” said Maj. Randy Groesbeck ’98, director of administration and security for the Department of Public Safety and the student organization’s adviser. “Their calls range from minor illnesses to life-threatening events, and they’ve resuscitated a number of individuals who otherwise probably would not have made it.”
Since it was founded in 1992, the squad has attracted more than 500 student volunteers, responded to thousands of emergency calls, and opened the door to careers as health care and public safety professionals.
Public safety student security cadets who saw a need for a rapid Emergency Medical Services response crew on campus started the organization. They used a donated University van stocked with medical supplies as their ambulance and a side room in the public safety building as their headquarters.
By 1993, the group had seven trained emergency medical technicians who responded to calls in a 1978 Chevy ambulance. That same year, the first EMT class sponsored by public safety started with nine undergraduate students.
Founding squad member Merritt Colton ’93 recalled his crew as a “ragtag” group of students who were just trying to figure things out.
“Originally, we started at Gosiger Hall,” Colton said. “The ambulance was parked outside, and we had to run an extension cord to the back and put a space heater in to keep stuff from freezing.”
After graduation, Colton became a paramedic. Today, he is a Dayton Fire Department captain whose fire district includes the UD campus. He regularly sees the Rescue Squad on its runs, which lighten the number of minor injury calls for his EMS crews.
“Now we look at them — they’re a top-notch, well-equipped organization,” Colton said. “They really are an asset to the University and even to the city of Dayton.”
During the past three decades, the squad has been honored with national awards from the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation. UD Rescue Squad was named Collegiate EMS Organization of the Year in 1999 and 2003. The squad also won Collegiate EMS Week Celebration of the Year in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
UD Rescue Squad has been recognized five times by the foundation’s Striving for Excellence program, including the current three-year certification through 2018.
The squad is one of 56 campus-based EMS organizations in North America to provide ambulance service, said Scott C. Savett, vice president of the foundation, which represents about 250 campus-based EMS groups in the U.S. and Canada. Only about 20 percent have an ambulance; the others respond by using golf carts, sport utility vehicles, cars or bicycles, or on foot.
“I can say without hesitation that UD Rescue is one of the finest organizations under the NCEMSF umbrella,” said Savett, who has visited the squad several times since assuming his role in 1997. The passion and dedication that has earned such accolades is evident in the student squad today.
A student-run volunteer EMS organization with a state-certified basic life support ambulance located on campus, the rescue squad provides free pre-hospital care and transportation for all medical and trauma emergencies on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the academic year.
The squad’s current ambulance, dubbed Squad 1, was purchased in 2012 by the University. The box-like white vehicle is emblazoned with the UD chapel logo and a bold, red stripe down the side that spikes sharply toward the rear like a heartbeat monitor.
Groesbeck said the squad averages more than 400 ambulance runs each year during the eight months it is in service.
During the fall 2015 semester alone, the rescue squad responded to 315 emergency calls and transported 224 students, faculty, staff or visitors to area hospitals, said senior Patrick Dugan, a premedicine major from Noblesville, Indiana, who serves as the squad’s assistant chief of operations. Those runs included six possible heart attacks.
Emergency calls to public safety are dispatched to the UD Rescue Squad, which is alerted by a loud tone that sounds throughout the squad house. Calls to 911 from cell phones are sent to Montgomery County dispatch, which can turn a call over to public safety if the emergency is appropriate for squad response.
Each year about 50 student volunteers participate on the squad, but only after they undergo rigorous classroom and practical training during the fall semester of their sophomore year to become nationally certified EMTs.
Students in the EMT-Basic class initially learn CPR and use of automated external defibrillators for the health care provider and are trained to drive the ambulance. New members then begin working weekly shifts with the squad to gain experience. They continue taking four-hour EMT classes two to three nights a week, including labs and lectures.
“It is really great to be able to learn in the class and then transition into seeing it hands-on as we go on calls with them,” said sophomore Julia Ripepi, a pre-physical therapy major from Cleveland who completed the class in November.
A new group of EMTs is added each year, with 20 new students taking the class.
UD Rescue Squad always has three certified EMTs on duty to make up a crew.
Squad members are required to volunteer for at least 24 hours of duty each month. Typically, students work several two- to four-hour shifts weekly, arranged around their class schedules. Each month, they also work overnight shifts that span 11 hours on weeknights and 18 hours on weekends.
During those overnight shifts, students eat, study and sleep in their cramped, aging squad house at 214 Lawnview Ave. (Read more on the rebuilding of the UD Rescue Squad house.)
Many students average between 500 and 1,000 volunteer hours during their three years on the squad, but about one-third graduate with “well in excess of 2,000 hours each,” Groesbeck said.
That remarkable devotion to service inspired senior Jonathan Melendez to join the squad. A premed major from San Juan,
Puerto Rico, Melendez exudes passion for the organization. He is UD Rescue Squad’s chief, the top officer.
“That really touched me, because for me that’s one of the reasons I picked UD, because I felt very at home here — I felt like people really helped each other out,” Melendez said.
“I felt like this group of students, we kind of represented that, just giving away a lot of our time volunteering to help our community in a very unique way.”
Melendez said the experience has affirmed his decision to become a premed major and pursue a career in the medical profession. “I think there are a lot of ways you can impact the world, but for me, that’s kind of my place,” he said.
Earning a place in medical school involves service and clinical care hours, in addition to a strong grade-point average, said Kathleen Scheltens, director of UD’s premedical programs. Volunteering for UD Rescue Squad is common for premed majors because they gain patient care skills and experience that prepares them for careers as doctors, nurses, physical therapists and other medical professionals.
Melendez, for example, has interviewed and been accepted at Ohio State University, Boston University and the University of Central Florida. He said his experiences as an EMT and leader have been an integral part of his interviews.
Kim Sherman ’13 credits the squad for her discovery of her career path as a physician assistant in emergency medicine. She learned about the profession from an upperclassman while working an overnight shift.
Some physician assistant programs require as many as 2,000 hours of patient care. Said Sherman, “[T]hanks to my EMT-B training and volunteering with the squad, I was able to apply to any school.” She completed her master’s degree in physician assistant studies from Ohio Dominican University in December.
“My experiences with Rescue Squad were absolutely phenomenal,” said Mary Salimbene Merriman ’09, an epidemiologist at the Union County Health Department in Marysville, Ohio. She said UD Rescue boosted her confidence and helped solidify her career goal of working in the medical profession.
Tyler Britton ’11 supervises a hematology/oncology clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston that sees hundreds of patients daily.
“What I experienced behind the double doors of the squad ambulance with two other classmates is not a far cry from the much larger team I work with now,” Britton said. “The principles of teamwork, best care and altruistic dedication are consistent, and to experience that with the UD Rescue Squad is something I am very grateful for, and it excels my work daily.”
While there have been many memorable and satisfying experiences for the squad, it’s clear that last April’s run to rush Sean Ferguson to Miami Valley Hospital will stand out in its history.
A three-member duty crew had just transported another patient and was in the hospital ambulance bay when they heard about the accident, recalled junior Chris Reyes, who was on duty at the time. The UD dispatcher radioed the crew to ask if they were able to respond to Ferguson. Reyes quickly threw the cot in the back of the ambulance, which raced to the scene with lights and sirens.
Meanwhile, senior Nathan Steinbrunner and five other off-duty crew members were meeting at the squad house garage. They heard the radio call, piled into a car and sped to the parking lot near Kettering Laboratories to help deliver aid.
“Incidents like this are very rare and very uncommon for us to ever get,” said Steinbrunner, a chemical engineering major from Versailles, Ohio. “But in all the instances, even though we don’t see situations like this frequently at all, we are still able to deliver the appropriate patient care.”
The squad members placed Ferguson on a backboard, obtained his vital signs and then transferred him to the Dayton Fire Department ambulance for transport, with Crew Chief Mariah Jutte ’15 riding with them back to the hospital.
After intense treatment and therapy, Ferguson returned to campus in the fall and received his degree in December at UD’s 166th commencement exercises.
Along with senior Matt Lickenbrock and Steven Pope, the bystanders who administered CPR, the Rescue Squad was honored in December at the 10th annual Miami Valley Crime Stoppers Awards banquet.
Reyes, a biology major from Elida, Ohio, said the day the squad responded to that parking lot with speed and professionalism was his proudest day as a Rescue Squad member.
“I would honestly trust all of my UDRS peers with my life,” Reyes said.
Dave Larsen is a former staff writer at the Dayton Daily News, where he covered higher education, film, popular music and technology over his 25-year career.
Rushing to help others can lead to interesting career paths. Here are some chosen by Rescue Squad alumni:
Aeromedical evacuation officer
Molecular genetic technician
Gynecologic oncology fellow
Zoo security officer
Director of athletic communications
Funeral director & embalmer
Deputy fire chief