Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps, or SAVAC, was formed in 1971 after budget cuts to Mary Walker Health Center. It was the nation’s first fully student-run ambulance corps.
“Most of us come from other EMS agencies and fire departments from our home towns,” Cheyenne Lewis, president of SAVAC, said. “SAVAC is a way to continue our passion for emergency services. Others entered for the experience and because they love volunteering. It’s a lot of work, but completely worth it.”
“I’ve been around this kind of stuff my whole life,” Alyssa Seldes, medical captain, said. “I volunteered at the Union Hill Fire Department and I became an EMT while I was in high school.”
SAVAC is funded by the Oswego State student activity fee. Services provided by SAVAC, including medical transport and evaluations, are free, although other ambulance agencies and the hospital do charge for their services. The ambulance runs 24/7 and is always staffed with emergency medical technicians, and a certified emergency vehicle operations driver who is also certified to treat emergency medical situations. The corps is large enough that despite the hours members need to work outside of SAVAC or go to class, there are always people available to respond to a call.
“Also, after class a lot of us hang out at base and do homework during the day so we can respond when we get dispatched,” Lewis said. “It gets hard sometimes being full-time students while doing what we do. It’s all about time management. If we have a big test or a lot of homework, we can always find coverage for our shift from our staff.”
SAVAC treats, stabilizes and, if needed, can resuscitate patients. For these medical professionals, the stress can be difficult to deal with, but they persevere.
“There are two things that keep me in SAVAC,” Lewis said. “The camaraderie is one. We work together for hours on end on regular basis, some of the best friendships I’ve made have been from this place. But the number one reason I’m in SAVAC is the immediate relief we see from patients when we arrive on scene. They know help is here and I’m honored to be a part of that.”
“We don’t just deal with drunken people,” Seldes said. “I’ve seen everything from seizures, assaults, to broken bones around campus.”
“I want students to know that SAVAC is a positive thing, not negative,” Patrick Oswald, director of operations, said. “We are here to help, not to get students into trouble.”
All new members are trained and cleared by professional members. In order to clear as a helper, the most basic rank in SAVAC above helper-in-training, the trainee must learn basic ambulance procedures, such as operating the stretcher, learning how to use the oxygen tanks and learning how to test a patient’s vitals proficiently.
“SAVAC is everything I thought it would be,” Alex Reitz, a freshman helper and member of the EMT class, said. “It’s professional, serious, and everybody gets along.”
Any trainee who becomes an EMT may enter the organization’s attendant-in-training program. To become an attendant, the trainee will learn to use their EMT training in the field and also learn how to run a shift which includes radio communication, hospital interaction, patient care and leading the crew.
“I had no previous emergency squad training before I came to SUNY Oswego,” Zach Swanson, attendant and vice-president, said. “Honestly, when I saw SAVAC for the first time I thought it was cool. I’m not joking, that was thought process. Since I became a member of SAVAC, I’ve joined two other ambulance corps. The best part about working at SAVAC is that I get to work alongside people I get along with.”
Those who wish to drive the ambulance must partake in the driver-in-training program. They will work their way up from non-emergency driving, familiarizing with streets and buildings, to a driver with a CEVO where they may drive to emergency calls.
Students are welcome to join despite previous experience. For anybody who wishes to expand their knowledge in the emergency medical field, EMT courses are offered on campus. If anybody is interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. An EMT or CEVO certification is not required to be admitted.
“SAVAC will always be by the students, for the students,” Lewis said.