Swarthmore’s finest are on call: get to know the volunteer firefighters and EMT’s

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

That fire horn can be pretty obnoxious, can’t it? Perhaps many readers have learned to tune it out by now–I confess that even after four semesters I jump when I hear it, almost as though I think the end is near, or something equally as ridiculous. For some Swatties, however, the horn very simply means to sprint to the fire station. NOW. They are volunteer firefighters, and together with emergency medical technicians (EMT’s), they have all of Swarthmore’s emergencies covered, from gas leaks to downed power lines, cardiac arrest to drug overdose, and of course, actual fires.

Firefighter Rio Akasaka ’09 estimates that there are about one-hundred active members at the Swarthmore Fire and Protective Association, including both Swarthmore students and non-students. The various non-students from the community include a few high schoolers, who volunteer their time after school or on weekends, as well as people who find time after their real jobs, says Caitlin Markowitz ’07, who has been an EMT for over two years. All of the manpower goes to responding to about 250 fire calls and 700 EMS calls per year (in 2005, the SFPA ran 237 fire and 660 EMS calls, courtesy of www.swarthmorefd.org).

To become either or both a firefighter and EMT, one needs to be determined. It used to be that one would have to go through about 110 hours of firefighter training in a semester, says Akasaka in an email, and in a new revamped training program, it could take much longer to get certified. Becoming (and remaining) an EMT also involves courses. “You do have to take a certain number of continuing education classes,” Markowitz says.

Once certified, volunteering at the fire station requires its fair commitment and work. There are meetings, maintenance, and continuing education classes, on top of the actual emergency calls. According to Markowitz, most EMT’s are “on call” for about eight hours per week, meaning that they have to stay close enough to the fire station so that they can be there immediately after they get a call on their pagers. Once at the fire station, it is go time in the ambulance.

For all the time and energy (and loss of sleep) involved in volunteering, the experience can be quite rewarding. Akasaka weighs in: “It’s a really good feeling you know you’re with others who want to do something to help others when it’s often a sacrifice on their part. But ultimately it’s not a sacrifice, I guess. It’s a passion.”

As for Markowitz: “We usually just take the patients’ vital signs, talk to them, and take them to the hospital. But it’s really good to be part of the system that’s there to help people.”

Markowitz also has a word of advice to students facing an emergency situation: do not be afraid to call. “We’re happy to help…we’re nice people,” she adds.

If anyone is interested in joining the SFPA next semester, feel free to contact Caitlin Markowitz at cmarkow1, for more information.

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