May 12, 2023 | FEATURES | By Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editor-In-Chief
The Hybl Community Center on Colorado College’s East Campus is in many ways used in accordance with its name. Home to communal spaces, conference areas, and apartment laundry facilities, the Community Center routinely hosts students working on homework, hanging out with friends, or begrudgingly doing their chores.
However, on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the Block, Hybl also plays host to another group on campus, one that is far different from its routine occupants: student emergency medical technicians. From 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., on-shift members of Colorado College Emergency Medical Services use the building as a home base while awaiting a potential dispatch to a location on or around campus.
While CCEMS is available on request 24/7 (with the exception of Block Breaks and holidays, as during which there may not be a member available on campus), their student EMTs also work these weekend shifts in Hybl once a Block. Although the shifts occasionally become filled with dispatches from CC campus safety to areas on and around campus, they can also be quiet, leaving the students to find ways to pass the time.
“I always say I’m going to do homework, but [that] never happens,” said Wiley Holbrooke ’25. “It’s kind of cool just be forced to get creative with the time spent with people you don’t really know that well.”
“I usually watch a movie every shift,” said Jose Apodaca ’23. “One time, these people came into Hybl and wanted to play foosball, and we played foosball with them for a couple hours.”
Although they work directly with campus safety officers, CCEMS members are students. They do not discipline students for enjoying college social life, and, due to laws concerning patient confidentiality, do not report the medical diagnoses of the patient back to campus safety.
Despite using Hybl as their home base, not all on-shift members stay there the whole time. Occasionally, they’ll pop their heads into some of the social events happening around campus, not to partake in the party activity, but to respond to calls and check in on the students there.
“We don’t do anything there – there’s no substances allowed on shift,” said Apodaca. “When we go out to parties, we have treats to hand out and tiny bottles of water.”
“We’re just students – we’re not there to do anyone harm or get anyone in trouble,” said Sarah Hoffer ’25.
While most of this activity is to ensure the safety of students having fun after a long week of school, it also is done to build trust with CCEMS among the partygoers – a trust that, until recently, was not wholly present within the community. In the eyes of current members, a lack of trust in the service could lead to fewer students using it to receive help in dangerous situations.
“Two or three years ago, when I first started, [students] would scatter when we showed up because they thought we were part of campus safety,” said Apodaca. “But I feel like, as we have been more involved in the campus and having a bigger resurgence ever since we came back a couple of years ago … now people are used to us being there.”
Despite a positive community atmosphere and generally positive recent student feedback, it is not all fun and games being a student EMT. On top of all the pressures that a Block Plan schedule may dictate, they are constantly dealing with on-the-job stresses that can leave significant traumatic effects, something unfortunately common amongst even professionals in the field.
“The reason we see a lot of mental health issues in first responders is that you don’t really get a chance to process the trauma,” said Zac Strugar ’25. “A big part of an EMTs job is maintaining a façade, maintaining your calm, confident demeanor and staying in charge of the situation. That can allow trauma to build and to compound because you’re not allowing yourself the space to process it.”
In lieu of other recent calls by students for the college to better emphasize mental health awareness, CCEMS analyzed the collective mental health of their squad and identified ways they could help ease the burden of difficult calls on their student EMTs. Within this analysis, they found that talking through some of the more difficult aspects of calls was a good way to use one another as a resource, and that this process seemed to lighten the mental load that some of their members were undertaking.
“At the beginning of the year, [meetings] were very much more factual, like ‘this is what happened, here’s what you can learn,’” said Kelli Dougherty ’25. “But now, people are more like ‘this specific thing happened, and I kind of felt this way about it.’ It makes you feel more comfortable as an EMT because you know other people are feeling the same way.”
Dougherty and Strugar will both be undergoing training this summer for their new roles in the fall as confidential resources, skilled in talking their CCEMS peers through traumatic calls and providing support. With them as resources, student EMTs will now have the ability to confide potentially sensitive work-related information within people they know and trust, rather than a random adult.
“Obviously, we’re not going to be trained to the standard of a mental health professional,” said Strugar. “For a normal profession, you can talk to your friends and loved ones to help you process [events]. And so, there’s that intermediate step between therapy and not talking at all, and our role will be to sort of be that for everyone on the squad … it’s sometimes difficult to make the step and go talk to a professional.”
However, if students on the squad would like to talk to a professional about how a call or an incident affected them, they’ll now have the ability to do so without penalty. Starting this year, CCEMS EMTs now receive the same support resources through CC as Resident Advisors, allowing them unrestricted free sessions within the on-campus counseling office for work-related mental health support. This policy differs from that of other students, who receive six free counseling sessions per year but must pay for any additional ones.
“Being EMTs on campus, we’re exposed to additional stressors and secondary trauma,” said Dougherty. “Any additional sessions that are because of the stress of the job, the counseling center agreed that we shouldn’t be charged for that.”
Despite their importance to the campus and collaboration with campus safety, CCEMS members don’t agree with the perception that they are authority figures.
“We’re just students, we’re not authority,” said Holbrooke. “Since we are free for anyone that calls us, it’s just important to know that we’re here. And we’re not here to judge, and we’re not here to get anyone in trouble. We’re just here to help.”
Moreover, members note that, despite their job, they still fully participate in college social activities.
“We’re students. We get in bad situations. We go to parties – we’re doing everything that requires CCEMS,” said Holbrooke. “Just not on shift.”