Recent graduate Kevin Garcia recalls experiences as a Yale EMT

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Kevin Garcia '16 (left) with fellow YEMS members Jack Zakrzewski '16 and Sarah Xiao '17. (Photo by Román Castellanos-Monfil)

Last year during Class Day, Kevin Garcia ’16 made an “amateur mistake” that almost got him in trouble with the Secret Service.

Classes had ended a few weeks earlier but Garcia remained on campus to work Commencement weekend with Yale Emergency Medical Services (YEMS). Stationed on Cross Campus, he and his partner, Grace Yi ’17, decided to do a quick sweep of the area and asked a security guard to watch their bags while they walked around. When they returned, the guard was gone and an undercover police officer approached them to ask if the bags belonged to them.

“When we responded in the affirmative, she walked away shaking her head, clearly irritated, and quickly made a call,” he said. “Grace and I then realized our mistake: having left unattended bags at an event with the Vice President [Joe Biden, Class Day speaker], we were then approached by the Secret Service, with the bomb squad a few paces behind. Needless to say, we were rather embarrassed. Our word, and many, many apologies, were taken at face value, and we were not disciplined, nor made to empty our bags.”

The incident is one of Garcia’s favorite memories working as part of YEMS, a registered student organization and a state-licensed EMS agency that, as a part of Yale Health, provides regularly scheduled EMS standby coverage to the Yale campus during high-risk events. While YEMS does not transport patients, the group is equipped to provide full BLS-level (basic life support) emergency medical care on scene to patients free of charge. Members are Yale students who hold Connecticut state certification at the emergency medical technician (EMT) level or higher.

The group’s membership tends to hover in the mid-30s with a core group of 8-12 who are the most active, said Garcia. In order to join YEMS, candidates must have a current Connecticut EMT-B license, which interested Yale students, employees, and affiliates may obtain through YEMS’s semester-long EMT certification course. Garcia said most of YEMS members are also certified through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, allowing them to more easily obtain reciprocity in other states. The group also offers CPR and AED (automatic external defibrillator) classes.

Garcia said he decided to get involved with the group as soon as he got to Yale, having served as an EMT since he was 16. A molecular biophysics and biochemistry major, he has long had an interest in medicine and knew he wanted to become an EMT when he was just 9 years old, after witnessing his grandmother take a “pretty nasty fall” while hiking.

“The EMTs that came to rescue her ran up the mountain and carried her down in a scoop stretcher. I was very impressed, and resolved to become an EMT as soon as I could,” he explained.

During the summer of his sophomore year of high school, Garcia took the course to become an EMT and started working for the volunteer fire department and responding to calls in his hometown, Hebron, Connecticut. Once at Yale, he started taking shifts almost every weekend and was appointed education director of YEMS in the spring. His sophomore year, he became chief of service, a position he held for two years.

Garcia worked to increase campus awareness of YEMS and also to broaden the events the group covers during his time as chief of service, and he thanked Maria Bouffard, director of the Office Emergency Management, for her help in promoting YEMS. When Bouffard started working at Yale seven years ago, she began including YEMS as part of the Commencement Public Safety plan, she said.

“The team members are always so professional and so willing to support and help out. It has been an absolutely pleasure to work with them over the years. Commencement and other large events are in better hands when they are on duty,” Bouffard said.

Besides Commencement, YEMS also provides standby support for Founder’s Day, Freshman Assembly, and Staff Appreciation Day in addition to sporting events and other large campus events, such as the presidential inauguration.

Garcia said the most “critical element” of the job and responding to a call is having “situational awareness” and remaining vigilant. For example, the student noted, if the dispatcher sends him to a patient’s house on a sick call because the patient’s caregiver called and said the patient was acting unusually lethargic, he might miss vital details — like an empty pill bottle on the floor — if he takes the description as the “absolute truth,” thereby compromising the patient’s safety.

“Obviously, with EMS, you never know exactly what situation you are responding to,” he explained. “You always need to be vigilant, both for you and your partner’s safety, as you may be entering a destabilized scene, but also in regard to the call severity. The reality with EMS is that you never know the full picture; you never have perfect, or anything approaching perfect, knowledge of the situation.

“What becomes incredibly challenging sometimes is the fact that EMTs often encounter death, or otherwise very traumatic situations. We are caring for people on their worst days, and sometimes, our patients do not make it. Transitioning between this environment and the day to day life as a student can sometimes be difficult,” he said.

Ultimately, Garcia said, he tried to make YEMS a welcoming environment for EMS providers of all levels. He cites the fact that the more experienced members are always happy to provide advice about EMS, the medical school application process, or just life in general as evidence that YEMS fosters an “excellent camaraderie.”

“The management opportunities YEMS provided were excellent, and definitely helped in securing my post-grad position, but it also was an excellent social hub. I have made friends through YEMS that I trust with my life, and will stay in touch with for life. We are just as comfortable grabbing a drink or working a code together, and that is a pretty special bond,” he explained.

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