In case of emergency

Medical emergencies are rarely expected, which is why Illini Emergency Medical Services waits in the background as thousands of fans enjoy a football game at Memorial Stadium.

The registered student organization was founded in 1979 by students who wanted to provide better emergency response services at events at Memorial Stadium. The RSO, based on the second floor of the Illini Union, is entirely volunteer based. Because the work of the organization is volunteered, funding comes from the University student organization fee and donations from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and other events that IEMS works.

“We have the goal of promoting campus safety and providing clinical experiences to pre-health majors or people who want to get more involved with medicine,” said Grace Zhang, president of IEMS and senior in LAS. Although the club is mostly composed of students in pre-health majors, members in majors ranging from English to political science to engineering have joined the club.

The list of venues that IEMS works at includes at football games at Memorial Stadium, basketball games and concerts at State Farm Center, performances at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, commencement ceremonies and large RSO fundraisers.

Although IEMS might be best known for student patrols at sporting events on campus, the RSO hosts CPR, emergency medical responder and emergency medical technician training.

“What’s really unique about our organization is that all the members that have received certification were taught by students,” Zhang said. There are about six CPR instructors that can license new members.

IEMS also provides training that mimics real world situations. “One of the great things about the courses we teach is that we have what are called practicals,“ Zhang said.

In these practicals, the IEMS brings in volunteers to act as fake patients, who wear makeup to simulate injuries. “The point is that our EMR and EMT students have a chance to practice their skills before they go out,” Zhang says.

IEMS members that have taken the EMT course are certified to provide up to EMT-B, which is the basic level of care. In Illinois, there are various classifications of emergency medical technicians, including EMT-P, or paramedics, who have completed coursework and have been certified in “advanced life support” techniques, according to the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act. There is also an intermediate level of life support, EMT-I, certification.

Doug Olsen, paramedic at PRO Ambulance at Presence Covenant Medical Center, explains that EMT-B certification is essentially an advanced first aid course, providing skills for initial assessment and treatment of a patient.

“They can do splints, take vitals, give oxygen, help stop bleeding,” among other things, he said. The training EMT-B provides is also the first step on the road to working with a fire department or other emergency service and eventually becoming a full paramedic.

While they cannot provide the level of life support paramedics offer, IEMS is an opportunity to learn about the medical profession. Olsen notes that helping with sporting events and taking EMT classes is a fantastic experience. “You never know when you might need that expertise; any experience is a good thing.”

Although IEMS teams are composed of students, the group works closely with health and safety organizations to provide emergency medical services. This includes sometimes acting as the first responder before determining whether to pass the patient on to other medical personnel, including PRO Ambulance, Arrow Ambulance of Carle Foundation Hospital and the University Police Department. “What will happen is that we will have our teams there, but in addition to that, there will be PRO Ambulance standing by if we have a patient so we can hand over care to PRO,” Zhang said.

During each football game at Memorial Stadium, IEMS provides around 12 teams that are responsible for a section of the stadium and two bike teams that take care of possible situations outside the stadium. Each team is made up of one lead EMT and two CPR-certified members. Along with the teams on the ground, there are supervisors that take charge of a group of IEMS teams to facilitate communication to paramedics and ambulance services if necessary.

“We have set up a system so that the communications and treating of the patient are separate entities,” Zhang said.

If an IEMS team gets a call, they will alert the supervisor who then makes the necessary calls to 911 or an ambulance service and can bring the patient to the attention of command center at the stadium.

“This frees up the EMT or CPR members to be focused only on treating of the patient,” Zhang said. “You always want to physically assess the patient, take vitals, take a medical history and then facilitate necessary transport.”

Most of the injuries that IEMS respond to are accidents such as falls, cuts and bruises, intoxication and heat-related conditions, although sometimes more serious situations do occur. Zhang recalled someone who went into cardiac arrest two years at Memorial Stadium.

“The (Illinois) Marathon and football have to be the best ones,” said Sarah Main, director of operations for IEMS and junior in Applied Health Sciences.

“When we had the football game vs. SIU (on Aug. 31), temperatures were in the 90s, and we got a lot of heat-related emergencies,” Zhang said. “We had 42 calls, so we do get a large volume of calls, especially during football.”

“It’s never a dull moment with us,” Main said.

Tim can be reached at vandera1