SAVAC determined to serve Oswego community despite staffing shortages

OSWEGO, N.Y. — Students by the day, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) by the night — members of Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corporation, also known as SAVAC, work tirelessly five days a week from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at SAVAC, while simultaneously juggling their school work. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, SAVAC has experienced a staffing shortage.

Membership numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic ranged from 40 to 70 people. After the COVID-19 pandemic, their membership numbers are between 25 to 30 people. 

“It’s challenging to run an Emergency Medical Service when you’re so severely understaffed,” said President and crew chief of SAVAC, Tristan Caruana.

According to SAVAC’s website, it is the nation’s first 100% volunteer and student-run ambulance corporation. SUNY Oswego students can volunteer as crew assistants, drivers, and EMTs to provide emergency care to people living on campus and in the Oswego community.

Caruana said that there are many benefits of becoming a SAVAC member. For one, SAVAC members receive training, patient hours, and hands-on experience.

“It’s lifelong skills that you can learn,” Caruana said, “and a resume builder for future job opportunities!”

When in service, SAVAC is staffed by at least one New York state-certified EMT and a certified Emergency Vehicle Operator. 

Caruana already possessed an EMT certification when he first joined SAVAC. Members who don’t have an EMT certification can get EMT certified in college for free by taking a six-credit course called Emergency Medical Technician – Basic, also known as HSC 300, taught by professor Mark Murray.

Still, Caruana said that being an EMT and a college student at the same time can be stressful.

“Once, our crew left at 6:30 p.m. and did not return until 1:30 a.m. because they got back-to-back calls that night,” Caruana said.

Caruana said that driving an ambulance is also a key part of being an EMT. He described his first time driving a patient to a hospital in a SAVAC ambulance as nerve-wracking. 

“If you hit even a tiny bump, things just smack on the ground and there’s a risk that the patient gets more hurt,” Caruana said. “If a paramedic is trying to inject an IV in the patient and you take a sharp turn, it might injure the patient. So, you have to be very careful.”

The responsibilities of an EMS don’t end after administering medical care. After dealing with each emergency, they need to write a report detailing the incident and response.

“It’s a legal record of the incident, so we can’t get it wrong,” said Caruana. “That usually takes up a lot of time.”

Most calls at SAVAC are related to alcohol intoxication, broken bones, and minor injuries. Occasionally, they also have to respond to more serious emergencies like drug overdoses. 

“Saving people makes me feel good about myself,” Caruana said. “Sometimes I walk around the campus and I see people I’ve helped before and they’ll still, to this day, thank me.”

Former Cayuga Hall Director Shawn Woleslagle said that anytime there is a medical emergency in residence halls, SAVAC arrives at the scene much quicker than hospital ambulances and transports patients to the hospital.

“It’s reassuring to know that students have quick access to medical support and they don’t have to worry about their finances before calling an ambulance,” Woleslagle said.

He recalls the time when a student was unable to breathe and became unconscious in the residence hall. He said that SAVAC arrived at the location quickly and transported the student to the hospital.

“SAVAC was very efficient in that situation and handled the situation very professionally,” Woleslagle said.

Apart from providing ambulance service, SAVAC also does standby for sporting events at SUNY Oswego.

“We’ve covered club sporting events like hockey and rugby games,” Caruana said. “If we don’t cover those events, they don’t have a game or they need to hire EMS from outside, which is very difficult.”

However, some nights are more relaxed than others. On those nights, members can take a nap, watch movies or even do their homework. Caruana has made some of his closest friends through SAVAC.

“There are some people who graduated from Oswego, whom I knew through SAVAC, that I still talk to on a regular basis,” said Caruana. “I’ve had some of my happiest memories while working in SAVAC.”

Currently, SAVAC is focusing on growing its recruitment numbers to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. 

“Students of all skill levels are welcome.” Caruana said. “Although it may sound stressful, it’s very rewarding and it’s all worth it.”

Interested students can email and learn more about joining SAVAC. In case of an emergency, SAVAC can be reached at 911.