Waiting by the Phone

Emergency medical technicians pass hours anticipating chance to
put skills into action

By Jennifer K. Morita

Daily Bruin Staff

They admit they’re ghoulish and grin when they say it.

They wait anxiously for emergencies. When their radios beep,
they say they start to pant like Pavlov’s dogs.

They are the 12 UCLA students who operate EMS-1 – UCLA’s blue
and gold ambulance – as part of the Emergency Medical Services
(EMS) program that offers medical assistance on campus and
throughout the university community 24 hours a day, seven days a
week, 365 days of the year.

The Emergency Medical Services program has been on campus since
1979, when the UCLA Police Department trained a small group of
police officers to be Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
Students took over the program in 1981.

"Before the inception of the program, we had to rely on the Los
Angeles City Fire Department which, because we are so large and
because of the frequency of calls, the timing was not
satisfactory," said Scott Martin, director of the program, adding
that the response time to a call from UCLA used to average about
eight to 10 minutes.

"Because we have an ambulance that is staffed at all times, we
(now) have an average response time of about two minutes," Martin
said. "It makes a big difference if an individual is having a heart
attack or major complications due to injury or illness."

UCLA’s EMS-1 has a response time half that of the Los Angeles
City Fire Department and responds to about 1,000 calls a year,
Martin said.

"They’re the students, and because of that, they know the campus
quite well, so their familiarity with campus geography is very
beneficial for a timely response," Martin said.

In addition, Emergency Medical Services employees operate the
campus lost and found service, as well as staff the police
station’s front desk, assisting people who come to the window for
information.

Emergency medical technicians are also trained to take police
reports and respond to calls that don’t involve a crime that
occurred against a person, such as a stolen car, Martin said.

"It’s very much a service to the student community," he
said.

About 42 percent of UCLA’s calls to Emergency Medical Services
in 1995 were from students, 12 percent were from UCLA staff and 46
percent were from people who happened to be on campus.

Although most of the program’s funding comes from state funds,
there is some revenue coming in through transport fees, Martin
explained. Typically, a patient’s healthcare provider or insurance
company will pay for the cost of transporting the patient to the
hospital in EMS-1.

"Currently, our transport fees are well below the City of Los
Angeles standards," said Martin. "We keep the cost down for the
students and whoever else needs the program."

Emergency medical technicians usually work between 20 and 40
hours each week, many times taking late shifts from 10 p.m. until 7
a.m. the next morning. A small room in the police station holds two
bunk beds, where the medics can sleep while waiting for any
emergency calls.

"We love our job," said Brian Kinsley, one of the technicians.
"I’ve never heard of any of (the EMTs) not wanting to come in to
work."

The emergency medical technicians are a close-knit group, going
into Westwood together to grab a bite to eat or hanging out at the
station with their colleagues even when they are not on duty.

"This kind of job makes you real close and real personal," said
EMS administrative assistant Peter Dell, who is also training to be
a technician. "We’re family."

And as a family, they provide support for each other in a job
that has a high stress factor.

"When we get a major call where there is a high amount of
traumatic stuff happening, my first concern is to the patients and
getting them taken care of," Kinsley said. "But after it’s over, my
main concern is for the EMTs."

Clayton Kazan, a fourth-year biology student who has been an
EMS-1 technician since his second year, said he has gone on two
cardiac arrest calls.

"I lost both," Kazan said. "One patient we came real close – we
got an irregular breath back and then we lost it again and he died.
And then there was a while there last quarter when we had about
five suicides and they were all in ugly ways.

"I’ve had to see a lot of stuff, but I don’t have much of a
problem dealing with it as long as I feel confident about what I
did and that I did all I could’ve done," said Kazan.

The technicians deal with the stress by talking to each other,
they said.

"We see a lot of really awful stuff, but we talk to each other
about it and we bond and we become really close," Kinsley said.
"That’s what seems to really help. It helps to let us know that
it’s normal to have nightmares, (that) it’s normal to cry."

Part of their ability to cope with what they see is that they go
into the job knowing what it involves.

"Usually, they know what they’re getting into and so they’re
mentally prepared for what is going to happen," Kinsley said. "We
hire really mature people."

The application process includes passing a written test,
physical agility and practical tests, in addition to an
interview.

"It’s very long and very difficult to get through, and once
we’re hired, we really appreciate the job (that) we have," Kinsley
said.

After an emergency medical technician is hired, there is a
three-month training period followed by a probation period that can
last from six months to a year. EMTs must also pass a final test in
order to begin work.

"Students are very professional, which is something we expect of
them," Martin said. "They come into the program very eager to be
involved. They quickly develop social skills and the ability to
assess a patient’s medical condition."

Much of their time is spent waiting around at the station for
calls, or driving around Westwood in the ambulance just to see
what’s going on. Late night food runs, including midnight trips to
Diddy Reese for cookies and milk, are common occurrences.

But the whole time they’re hanging out with fellow technicians
or eating in Westwood, the EMTs’ radios – enabling them to listen
to police and other emergency calls – remain attached to them,
snuggled into large pockets on their uniforms.

Their ears are always perked for the high-pitched beeps
signaling to them that they have a call.

"It’s exciting," Kinsley said. "Most people hope that there
aren’t any accidents, but we look forward to them. We think getting
calls is a good thing. We’re not like normal people."

ANDREW SCHOLER/Daily Bruin

Like other UCLA emergency medical technicians, Jason Itri spends
hours waiting to respond to emergencies. EMS-1, UCLA’s ambulance,
typically responds to calls in about two minutes.

"Most people hope that there aren’t any accidents, but we look
forward to them."

Brian Kinsley

EMT

… As a family, (EMTs) provide support for each other in a job
that has a high stress factor.

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