Oxford residents rely a lot on volunteers, probably much more than they would expect.
The city’s fire and emergency medical treatment (EMT) depend on the willingness of volunteers.
Although Oxford hired part-time firefighters and EMTs for the first time in August 2008, volunteers make up a large portion of the force.
Of Oxford’s 21 volunteers, seven are Miami University students. Another seven are either Miami alumni or working for the university in some capacity.
For the seven students balancing classes and volunteer work, one call can change everything.
Answering the call
According to Oxford Fire Chief John Detherage, firefighter and EMT volunteer opportunities are attractive to both pre-med students and individuals looking for early real-world practice.
“We get a lot of pre-med students, but we’ve gotten some other students who are just interested in the fire department,” Detherage said.
Detherage said the fire department is perfect for students looking for experience beyond the basic on-campus job.
Yet the experience isn’t always easy.
Senor Lauren Paluch, a zoology major and volunteer said balancing firefighter and EMT classes, study sessions and social events around her volunteer shifts has taught her skills to become a better student.
“Balancing the fire department and school can at times be challenging, but usually isn’t a problem for me.” Paluch said. “The department has actually taught me some great time management skills, making sure I have things planned out and not waiting until the last second to get assignments done because I might have to go out on call.”
In a similar manner, fellow volunteer Ilya Budik, a senior finance and biochemistry major, said he had to cut back his volunteer shifts due to schoolwork.
Yet Budik said he still makes time for “runs”-calls when volunteers are needed-on weekends instead of leaving the middle of a class.
“Personally, because I’m a double major I have a lot of school work, so I pretty much just run on the weekends,” Budik said. “It used to be that they had a lot of back up runs during the day and I took runs during classes.”
Despite their busy lives, Detherage said his student volunteers are some of the most energetic members of the department.
“The students are the most active members of the fire department,” Detherage said.
Student to student
While Miami classes are in session, both Paluch and Budik said they have encountered peers during their emergency runs, ranging from car accidents to serious illnesses to incidents of intoxication. During these instances, Paluch and Budik said they leave feelings aside and focus on the present job.
“For me, treating Miami students is no different from treating any other patient,” Paluch said. “I treat all of my patients the same to ensure everyone gets the same care. If you start treating people differently depending on who they are, it can subconsciously change how you treat them.”
Budik said his patients require help without his emotions as a distraction.
“I try to do my best to separate the emotional aspect of the job to do what they need medically,” Budik said. “I think that’s the best way to approach the job. The most important thing for the patient is that you’re thinking about how to get them to the hospital.”
Michael Pickering, a December 2008 Miami graduate and EMT volunteer, said having a fellow student as a patient is not necessarily an added challenge.
“Sometimes it’s easier to go on calls where Miami students are involved because the patient sometimes feels more comfortable when they can relate to the EMTs treating them,” Pickering said. “It always depends on the situation, but usually it doesn’t have to do with if they are a Miami student or not.”
Pickering said classmates were often not aware that he or other student volunteers are involved during emergency calls. According to Pickering, some classmates do not even remember seeing the volunteers at the time.
“Once I had a call with a class group member who was so drunk she didn’t remember the situation and I wasn’t about to bring up the fact that I was one of the EMTs who had treated her,” Pickering said. “Usually we try to be as professional as possible no matter if we know the patient or not.”
Budik said fellow students often respond positively when a student volunteer arrives at the scene. Budik said tense or stressful situations can improve when the patient recognizes thevolunteer.
“I think sometimes it’s funny when I walk in and people say, ‘I know you,’ and they almost feel more comfortable because I’m not a stranger,” Budik said.
Although situations of recognition occur, Paluch said HIPAA privacy laws keep the volunteers from sharing personal information.
“While (it is) occasionally awkward and sometimes the person is embarrassed, often they were happy to see me since it can be a scary experience to be taken care of by complete strangers,” Paluch said. “I also explain to them that I am a professional and that is how I think when I am on the job.”
For Paluch, working with the Oxford Fire Department will last longer than her time as a student. After graduation in May, Paluch said she plans to continue in the area and has decided to stick with firefighting before graduate school.
“I have every intention to continue to volunteer after I graduate,” Paluch said. “If my current post-graduation plans do not work out for me, I have intentions to enter the fire service full time for a few years.”
Pickering said his post-graduate plans also involve the fire service.
“After I graduate in December I plan to go to the Paramedic Academy at Butler Tech and advance my firefighter certifications,” Pickering said. “I hope in the future to get a full-time job in the fire service.”
Detherage said the fire department is constantly seeking more student volunteers, but they have to be ready to make a difference.