By Josiah Helms
Patrick Henry College
Cheryl Banks lay on the floor, her thoughts as disjointed as her fractured wrist and elbow. Ms. Banks had just performed a nose dive off the stairwell of her Purcellville home, landing not-so-gracefully atop a hardwood floor. Reaching for her cell phone, she pressed her speed dial.
“I knew there were EMTs in the area who lived on campus," she recalls, adding that she wasn't surprised when Loudoun County EMT Edward Hill , a PHC senior, showed up with another EMT-trained classmate, Daniel Davies. They helped assess and stabilize her injuries until an ambulance arrived. “I really had faith in these guys,” Banks said, noting that she had heard from "the station" that PHC's EMTs had earned a glowing reputation.
Edward Hill, certified release tech, and Nathanael Boyd, certified driver
“I don’t think people are aware of how much these students are sacrificing,” says Banks. “They’re coming (to school) dressed in gear, driving in ambulances, volunteering precious study time, and really making a great impact.” While the rest of Purcellville sleeps, seven hardy PHCers take turns staying up into all hours of the night to keep citizens safe.
Linda Curtis, Assistant Chief at the Purcellville volunteer rescue station, says she is very grateful for the number of volunteers, which grows each semester. “We could staff an ambulance with just PHC students.” Curtis brags that volunteers from the College “would be willing to do anything without question. [Their] work ethic is outstanding, and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Most of these students are pursuing a career in national defense and law enforcement—related obliquely to EMT work—while others are simply around for the ride.
Senior Aaron Gray, 23, is hoping to ride full-time one day. While bearing a full-time load in school, he is training to be an ambulance driver, joining the ranks of seniors Tony Pradia, Josh Nadal, and Nathanael Boyd. Even though he will hold his certification for less than three months before graduating and moving back home, Gray says the effort is worth it. “I just want to be able to volunteer and serve others in a physical, tangible way, if only for a short time. It’s nice to have the abstract ability to serve others with your major in some anticipated role. But it’s really nice to be able to impact people right now at a practical, personal level.”
Senior Edward Hill, who has put in more hours than any PHC student except sophomore Ashlynne Meiklejohn, is respected on the Purcellville volunteer rescue squad as a calm presence and certified release-tech—meaning, you might find him commanding a team on its run to and from the rescue scene. When Hill is on duty, Assistant Chief Curtis says, an ambulance can roll out of the station without any higher authority.
Pradia, a Strategic Intelligence student who has worn the blue uniform with Hill on two calls, describes him as “very professional, very quiet, and very good with patients. He’s sensitive to their needs and knows precisely how to handle them.”
The commitment to absorb several manuals’ worth of training material requires extreme focus, not to mention significant blocks of time. But Hill says this is less than half the challenge. Applying head knowledge to grisly situations is the make-or-break for every responder. Often EMTs in training discover a different side of themselves while fighting the blare of sirens and the smell of body fluids, and so they will not be released for full dispatch by the county until they can control their adrenaline and process protocols clearly.
For junior Rachel Reiley, 21, retaining a cool mind is not a problem. One of her courses at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, trained her to handle emergency situations while under the trauma of gunfire. The lessons she learned were put on hold when she left the Academy in 2006 to pursue a career in Strategic Intelligence, but she found a new place for them on the Purcellville volunteer rescue squad. Every Sunday, she jumps into uniform to work an overnight shift before classes on Monday. Reiley points to September 11, 2001, as the day that gripped her with a sense of compassion to help people in their vulnerability.
“That day changed my life forever, not because my own life or family was specifically touched by it, but because it changed my world and the way I thought about things.” Her biblical worldview also gives her a fresh perspective on compassion. “Being a Christian enables me to treat people as more than a job.”
Many students confess that helping people in need is, well, addictive. They cannot separate themselves from the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment found in loving people the way Christ did. This holds true even when patients lose control and start screaming. Emergency workers like Hill understand such emotion is not personal. Few patients recall the faces of those laboring to revive them, recording their vitals or holding them in C-Spine until they reach the hospital. For this reason, Pradia says it’s not surprising that even fewer come back to thank them.
When asked how he juggles the priorities of saving people’s lives and saving his GPA, Pradia laughed. “The long and short of it is: you don’t get to sleep.” But fellow EMTs joke that when Pradia walks into the station, a pile of books and papers trails close behind. Pradia grins: “I write some of my best papers waiting for calls to come in.”
A larger group of PHC students, like Daniel Davies, often go unnoticed for their volunteerism because they were certified as EMTs in their home states, rather than in Virginia. Davies has been a licensed EMT in Texas. Yet all feel a common bond because they are “part of the same culture,” Davies explains. Everyone in this culture knows the sacrifice, the sleeplessness, the “crazy hours.”
“We are full of inside jokes,” Boyd says.
Jon Norsworthy, a former special agent for the Department of Defense who spoke at a PHC chapel service, calls first responders like Davies, Hill, Pradia, and Reiley “the guardians of our way of life. They go into their job willingly, laying down their life and security on behalf of strangers. Essentially, they are reenacting the events of the gospel.”
Hill chimes in: “A slogan they taught us in class was ‘Do No Harm.’ Part of the code of being an EMT is ensuring we do everything in our power to put people out of harm’s way. These patients are already in pain, and it is our responsibility to move them into a safe haven of comfort and healing. In doing so, we’re following the role of Jesus, who did not neglect the physical needs of his fellowman. It’s like that verse, ‘Whatever you have done unto the least of these, you have done unto Me’ [Matt. 25:40]. And so I think that the Christian faith meshes at a critical level with the mission of being an EMT.”
For this close-knit group of Patrick Henry College students who serve Purcellville and Loudoun County as anonymous EMTs while managing heavy course loads, the honor of service has proven reward enough.