When Ryan Steves of Warrenton, Va., a senior majoring in biochemistry in the College of Science, joined the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad as a freshman, his passion for helping others was already on solid ground. His mother was an emergency room nurse, and at age 16, he had become a certified emergency medical technician.
This year, Ryan serves as captain of the squad and oversees the operations of this 24-hour emergency response unit, which is holding its annual volunteer recruitment drive each day this week on the Drillfield.
Started in 1969 by four students who were interested in emergency medicine, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is the oldest student-run volunteer emergency medical services program in the country.
Today the squad is a fully equipped Advanced Life Support agency with four vehicles and more than 40 volunteers. The squad is among a handful of collegiate EMS agencies offering ALS transport and has been the model for developing rescue squads at many universities throughout the United States.
In addition to his duties as captain and the responsibilities of a demanding major, Steves is also a resident advisor. He says his hectic schedule can be tricky sometimes, but his drive to help others -- particularly to teach them new skills -- makes all three investments of his time worthwhile.
“Most of our volunteers join the squad with no prior EMS training, so the first semester for a new recruit is spent learning,” Steves said. “After that, they go through tests for various duties on the squad and can advance in EMS certifications.”
Steves said about half the squad’s volunteers are certified in advanced life support; the less experienced volunteers learn from those who have advanced training, and there is always at least one ALS-certified volunteer on duty for every night shift. During day shifts, ALS-certified volunteers are available by pager if needed.
Steves named what he felt were some of the most important attributes for a rescue squad volunteer: leadership, a desire to help others, memorization skills, and the ability to stay calm and focused in high-pressure situations.
“This can be a messy business,” Steves said. “It is essential that we stay calm and non-emotional.” He said squad members often come together after a particularly difficult call to debrief.
“When I’m on a call, I tell myself, ‘You know the answer to this situation. It’s in your head. You’ve been trained to handle this.’” He said part of the training for all volunteers is to continually expose them to some of the most challenging situations so they can observe and learn from each other.
“We put our people through the hoops," Steves said. “The only way to learn and to stay up-to-date in your skill set is to practice.”
Steves said the squad responds to an average of eight calls per day, the most frequent requests being help for sports injuries and symptoms of common illnesses like the flu. Not surprisingly, the squad’s busiest time is at night.
In his position as captain, Steves is the point person to ensuring the squad runs seamlessly and effectively. He gets his greatest satisfaction from helping other volunteers develop new skills, and his pride in the squad is palpable.
“We have a group of young people who want to serve the Virginia Tech community,” he said. “We’ve received a lot from [Virginia] Tech, and now we want to give back. That’s what keeps me going.”
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.