Ready for anything: HERU volunteers rush to the scene

By Daniella Miller | September 9, 2004

They have huge backpacks. They are constantly seen sprinting through campus. Who are they? The Ghostbusters? Neo's team from The Matrix? CSI: Baltimore? Guess again. They're part of the Hopkins Emergency Response Organization known as "HERO." It's a student- run volunteer Emergency Medical Service (EMS) unit that provides coverage for the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus and surrounding areas. Staffed and run entirely by students, HERO is a member of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation (NCEMSF), which includes a variety of other schools, such as Cornell University and Indiana University. HERO also operates the Hopkins Emergency Response Teaching Unit (HERTU), which teaches classes in CPR, First Aid and Emergency Response. Susan Boswell, dean of student life, is the advisor for the organization.

HERO also runs the Hopkins Emergency Response Unit (HERU). This unit specifically operates in conjunction with Homewood Security and the Student Health and Wellness Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the academic year and modified hours during intersession and summer sessions. HERU also provides standby EMS coverage for campus events, (Spring Fair, Homecoming, even Peabody commencement) concerts, (in the past, Reel Big Fish and Guster) and conventions like the Peace by PEACE Annual Baltimore Peace Festival. In any medical emergency, HERU can be reached by dialing 9-1-1 on any campus phone, activating a blue light emergency phone or by calling (410) 516-7777.

During the 2003-2004 school year, HERU crews responded to over 250 medical emergencies on campus. They currently operate with approximately 50 active members, comprised of EMTs and American Red Cross Emergency Responders.

For those interested in running with HERU but who are not yet certified, the Hopkins Emergency Response Teaching Unit provides training to obtain CPR-PR and Emergency First Responder certifications from the Red Cross. The class requires roughly 60 hours of training and culminates in an exam consisting of a written portion and simulated scenes requiring skills demonstration. The teaching staff is comprised of Hopkins undergraduates -- a combination of certified instructors and teaching assistants.

Classes are offered each term, as well as during intersession. Fall and spring semester students must attend two classes each week: one must be on Monday or Tuesday and the other Wednesday or Thursday. All classes run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and are taught in Bloomberg. Credit cannot be gained from the class. The course will begin on Monday, September 13. Questions pertaining to HERU and classes can be directed to

According to Community Relations Chair Matt Basset, HERU requires a strong commitment from its participants. "The success rate varies from class to class--it's fluctuated between almost 95 percent to less than 25 percent," Basset explains. "It depends on how committed the students are and how willing they are to put in the time and effort necessary. It's not an easy course, but the people who pass it come out with more than just medical skills -- they come out with the mental preparation to enter emergency scenes and get things done."

Mary O, operations lieutenant of HERU, says that it isn't just passing the tests that qualify one to be a member.

"We look for members who are proficient and confident in their skills and in their ability to deal with people," says O. "In addition, members also need to be compassionate and show a true desire to help others in need."

Contacting a crewmember in the case of an emergency is simple. Calls first go through Hopkins Security, which dispatches the duty crew to the scene of the emergency. The crew, made up of two crew members and a crew chief, then responds either by foot or by Hopkins Security transport to provide basic life support, and if necessary, transport to the hospital for additional care.

"Though a crewmember or chief will have some idea of the type of call they are running to, one never knows how intense the situation can be," says Basset. "People fall down, hurt their ankles, get drunk, pass out, cut their hands, and they need help. But even though the majority of our calls aren't life threatening, we have to respond to each of them as if they were. We've seen people fall from serious heights and hit by speeding cars, and we have to be prepared to deal with those every time we pick up the bag."

Though the whole crew must immerse themselves in the scene, the crew chief will take charge of the care when they arrive.

"Crew chiefs are held to a very high standard because they are responsible for all patient care and make all decisions on scene," says O. "They must be able to maintain control of the scene, work with Security and other EMS personnel and direct the actions of crew members."

The average crew chief takes two or three eight-hour shifts each week. Additionally, some crew chiefs also take several reserve shifts each week. Crew members are required to take at least one eight-hour shift each week, although many decide to run more. Some of the current crewmembers are currently taking three shifts a week. Members must also attend monthly training sessions to ensure that their skills remain at the highest level, which run approximately one hour.

People are unfamiliar with the exact level of skill for the first responder, which is the lowest level of certification needed to be a member of the running unit. First Responder is an intermediate level of training between First Aid and EMT-Basic. The First Responder course, 60 hours long, fills the gap between the eight-hour First Aid class and the comprehensive training of a 120-hour EMT course.

"EMTs can provide more advanced assessments and treatments and can also administer more medications than a First Responder," says O, who is herself an EMT.

There are currently 10-15 EMTs on the squad.

HERO is benefited by a strong connection to Hopkins alumni, both former responders and the broader Hopkins alumni as a whole. They received a student services grant from the Alumni Association this fall. This enabled new equipment, uniform upgrades and new computer for their squad room located in AMR II.

Why would someone want to take on the responsibility of being on call any hour of the day, thrusting themselves into any emergency situation should it arise? For O, the First Responder course was one step on a long ladder.

"I became a First Responder because I had been a volunteer at an ambulance corps in my home town and wanted more training, but I didn't meet the age requirements to be an EMT," she explains. "Taking the First Responder course here provided a great foundation for my EMT course when I was finally able to take it."

Basset's reasons are along the same lines.

"Every now and then, you see an emergency developing--someone's on the ground, someone's panicking, someone's bleeding, and this crowd of people starts to form," she explains. "No one really knows what to do, except wring their hands and call 9-1-1, and then just wait. I got sick of waiting. I hated blood -- it made me sick -- but I got over it. Now, those same emergencies are opportunities for me to help. After First Responder training, I can identify what's wrong and step in to help, with full confidence in my abilities and my training."

Out of the 256 calls received from 2003-2004, about 13 percent were due to drug or alcohol abuse, 48 percent were due to localized trauma, 2 percent were as a result of altered mental status or behavioral and 16 percent were from general illness or malaise. Thus, it is obvious that first responders must be prepared for all types of situations.

"You never know when your skills will be needed, and it's always a good idea to be prepared," says O.

For more information about HERU, visit their comprehensive Web site at

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