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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

CAs and Bemco: Students helping students

Published: February 1, 2008
Section: Front Page, News

02010807.jpgIn addition to the notification systems on campus, separate organizations work to promote safety at Brandeis. As two facets of campus security, the Office of Residence Life and the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps work as bridges between students, administrators, and Public Safety.

Even before “Virginia Tech, and the establishment of the notification system, we work very closely with Public Safety,” said Director of Residence Life Rich DeCapua. “I would say our biggest issue is to get residents to understand is that although we are a safe campus, that is contingent on their actions.”

According to DeCapua, Residence Life and Public Safety officials meet regularly to make certain “we are a proper conduit for Public Safety and Facilities.” Regarding emergency protocols formulated by Residence Life and Public Safety, DeCapua added, “the thing[s] we hope [don’t] happen are the things we usually talk about.”

When asked about the relationship between Residence Life and Public Safety, DeCapua described the partnership as symbiotic. “If a party needs to be broken up, Public Safety and Res Life [are] there,” explained DeCapua. “Public Safety’s job is to break up the party… [and] Res Life works with students who might be more belligerent, try and de-escalate the situation, to let Public Safety to the job they have to do.”

Still, DeCapua said, situations involving physical altercations are handled by Public Safety officers as opposed to Community Advisors. “CAs aren’t cops—if someone needs to be restrained…that’s when Public Safety would be called in. CAs are not going to jump in—that’s not their job.”

Public Safety and Residence Life also work together when hospitalization is involved, DeCapua said. “Public Safety has to work with ambulances—Res Life makes sure people aren’t in the way…the human one-on-one, so the community isn’t affected.”

“When a student is approached by a Public Safety officer or somebody else, they’re going to get nervous, they’re going to ask questions, they’re going to get angry,” DeCapua explained. “The CA’s role is to bring it down to a level of calmness.”

When students and CAs bond, he added, incidents rarely occur. “Because they’re peers, it works well most of the time… mostly a student will listen to their CA before anybody in this office,” he said.

DeCapua also stated that the renovations for Deroy in Massell Quad included campus card access, and added that the new Ridgewood dorms will have card access. While DeCapua said other renovated dorms such as those in North Quad have not included campus card access, due to costs of wiring through stone, “every time we expand the scope… I think that if the university had the millions of dollars needed to [install it in every building] they’d do it in a heartbeat.”

Residence Life bolstered its communications with the implementation of the new VOCERA system, DeCapua added. Describing it as a sort of “Star Trek communicator,” DeCapua said that these badges operate off of the campus wireless system, and work even in low-reception locations such as Usdan. Furthermore, he said, Residence Life is also purchasing two-way radios, bullhorns, flashlights, and other emergency items in Quad offices. “That’s pretty standard stuff,” said DeCapua.

Public Safety and Residence Life have also collaborated on contingency plans for an uninhabitable building. DeCapua said that the university had several alternatives, including lofting doubles in first-year housing, using lounge spaces, sending students to hotels in the event of long-term housing necessities, and possibly taking advantage of an “informal arrangement” by housing students at nearby Bentley College. “If Deroy went down right now,” DeCapua said, “I’m confident we’d be able to find places for all 100 of them.”

Another student-run safety initiative on campus is the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps. With over 70 student EMTs in their ranks, BEMCo has acted for twenty-five years as a first-responder in on-campus medical situations. “I don’t think we’re part of security in the locked doors and patrolling part of security but we’re part of the integral well-being here at campus,” said BEMCo director Leah Honor ’08.

Honor said that BEMCo is called after the university emergency line is called and Police Dispatch determines that the call is a medical situation. She added that there is a four-person team operational at all times, which can then split into two-person groups. “[We] arrive on scene, assess the situation, determine what needs to be done and by whom,” she stated.

BEMCo supervisor David Altszuler ’08 said that BEMCo technicians could either treat patients on scene, take them to the Health Center or Newton-Wellesley Hospital for those in need of stitches or similar treatment, or call the Waltham ambulance in the event of higher-level injuries or intoxication. “I think Public Safety has done a good job in terms of triaging the credible threats,” he said, adding that, on average, BEMCo arrives on the scene approximately three minutes after being called.

According to Altszuler and Honor, BEMCo technicians are Massachusetts-certified EMTs. BEMCo technicians must be recertified every two years. Meanwhile, BEMCo primaries have “a few months” of off-campus experience, and supervisors such as Altszuler have “extensive” experience—Altszuler himself has worked as a paramedic in his native New Jersey for the past six years.

“Obviously when you get your EMT cards you don’t stop training,” said Honor. “Once or twice a month we have continued education classes. There are both practical skills as well as lecture series.” These courses deal with trauma, seizures and fainting, as well as a FEMA-developed course on Mass Casualty Incidents, or events which result in large amounts of injuries. “It’s meant to integrate different agencies,” Altszuler said. “If something happened at Brandeis, BEMCo wouldn’t be the only group involved.”

BEMCo has also received new tools in order to better serve the community, including a new supervisor vehicle. “Now we can have the two supervisors be the most qualified people, period,” said Altszuler. In addition, with its newly-earned Class 5 and 6 certification, BEMCo is “now certified to carry Basic Life Support drugs.” Additionally, BEMCo recently received a new defibrillator which can be used on both children and adults.

“We have treated the full range of calls; BEMCo’s first call was a woman in labor,” said Honor. “We don’t just get calls from students; [we also respond to] assaults, major trauma, behavioral emergencies, people hit by cars, and construction injuries.” Their goal, she added, was “continuing service to the Brandeis campus and continuing to broaden the scope of knowledge we have currently.” Altszuler agreed, wanting students to know that “BEMCO isn’t just the group that picks up all the drunk kids [during] the weekend.”