Making history, saving lives

Not every college has their own ambulance service on call.
It’s also possible that without the creation of Oswego State’s own SAVAC, the landscape of college ambulance services could be entirely different from what it is today.

The Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps, or SAVAC, has been helping students since it was formed in 1971 and was the first fully student-run ambulance corps in the nation.

Thomas Potrikus, president of SAVAC, feels that SAVAC has continued to operate successfully with the same purpose in mind over the last four decades.

"It was formed so that students had access to 24/7 emergency care and we’ve continued to do that for free of charge to all the students," Potrikus said. "They pay an SA fee, but that fee is allocated to all of the clubs, not just SAVAC and for a much smaller fee than what you would pay if you had to take a ride on the city."

SAVAC began when state funding to SUNY schools for health centers was cut.

"Health centers weren’t going to be open on the weekends anymore and their hours were cut down, so the health care provided to students was cut," Potrikus said.

Despite being recognized as a campus ambulance service, SAVAC does make the occasional off-campus trip, and that’s where the lines between being a student group and a professional ambulance service becomes jaded.

SAVAC is required by their Certificate of Need [C.O.N.] to serve the greater Oswego community, however, this contradicts the Student Association constitution to serve only fee-paying students.

SAVAC, like all other ambulance corps, is governed by a C.O.N. issued by the state when responding to calls.

"That states the area in which we are allowed to operate. Our C.O.N., it basically states SUNY Oswego campus and all surrounding areas," said Samantha Starkey, chief of operations.

Starkey says that because the campus is in both the city and town of Oswego, SAVAC operates in both jurisdictions.

Student Association Vice President Stefen Short acknowledges that SAVAC being required to help everyone is a sticky situation.

"Obviously the only people that are supposed to benefit from SA funded groups are SA fee-paying students, so that would be a breach of our law as a Student Association," Short said. "Now the difficulty with that is how do you know if someone is not paying an SA fee?"

Student Association Chief Justice Scott Silver believes SAVAC is operating in the right because they are doing what they are required to do by law.

"The school cannot solely govern the ambulance because we fund them," Silver said. "They are subservient to state and local regulations, which include county regulations."

The surrounding area is actually shared with Oswego City Fire Department and Oswego County Ambulance Service in Fulton, which means all three can respond to calls in the area.

Although unusual, SAVAC does sometimes respond to calls off-campus.
"We will respond into the city if the City of Oswego has a call and Oswego City is basically out of ambulances, per our C.O.N., it states that we will be the next in because we share the C.O.N. for that area, therefore we’re next up for it," Starkey said.

If Oswego City Fire Department was unable to respond to a call in the city, SAVAC would respond and vice versa. This means that there will always be someone available to respond to emergencies.

Mark Murray, advisor to SAVAC, says there has never been a call on campus that wasn’t answered and that someone who needs help will always get an ambulance no matter what.

Students living off-campus can even request SAVAC and depending on the situation, the Oswego County 911 Center could dispatch them.

The 2005 Ford E-450 McCoy Miller ambulance used by SAVAC also goes off-campus for driver training and transports among other things.
Members of SAVAC can also be dropped off at their homes on and off-campus.

"If someone lives on the west side of the city they can get a ride home," Starkey said.

SAVAC is funded by the SA fee, but is required to respond to all calls, and inevitably ends up treating non-students and non-fee paying students.

Starkey says billing students for services was considered years ago, but the student population was adamantly against the idea and that they couldn’t bill only those who do not pay an SA fee.

"You can’t selectively bill, it defeats the whole point of emergency services we’re not going to deny someone emergency services," Starkey said. "Not everyone that comes to this campus pays an SA fee, but anyone on-campus will get the same services as anyone else."

While the exact number of emergency calls made off-campus by SAVAC is difficult to calculate, Starkey says the practice is extremely rare.
However, if a major emergency occurs, SAVAC could be called to the city several times a day.

Short said that purely speaking, the policy of SA and SAVAC’s obligations to the community would conflict.

"That’s a very difficult law to enforce, especially in a situation like SAVAC; very, very difficult," Short said. "They’re just solely in the business of saving people and that’s what they’re going to do."

Despite any conflicts with policy, SAVAC still maintains a crucial service to students at Oswego State, both on-campus and off.

"We do it completely volunteer, there really isn’t any direct benefit for us other than the fact that we feel gratified helping somebody at the end of the day," Potrikus said.