College live-in program comes to Easton EMS

The Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service is at 448 Sport Hill Road. — Alexandra kushnir photo

The Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service is at 448 Sport Hill Road. — Alexandra kushnir photo

Chris Barlow, 19, from Duxbury, Mass., is a pre-med student at Sacred Heart University. What makes Barlow stand out from most first-year college students is where he lives and what he does from midnight to 7 a.m. every night.

Barlow is Easton’s very first college live-in volunteer emergency medical technician.  

The Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service has been serving the Easton community since 1946, responding to approximately 450 emergency medical calls a year.

The high-quality service to the community depends on the dedication of a small staff of both career personnel and volunteers who are ready to respond to those in need at any time of the day or night.   

As is often the case with volunteer organizations, it often becomes difficult for volunteers to balance the time given to the community with the time given to other day-to-day responsibilities. “Our volunteer ranks have dropped over the years, and with people working sometimes two jobs and making family time, staffing the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift with volunteers had become a tremendous challenge for us,” Assistant Chief Jonathan Arnold said. “Many nights we had no one on duty or an incomplete crew, forcing us to call Fairfield and Bridgeport for assistance.”

In order to continue to provide timely emergency care, the EMS took to the task of recruiting more volunteers. Arnold was inspired by a program run by the College Park Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland, which has been recruiting students from the University of Maryland studying fire science and emergency medical service.

“I contacted them with the help of two of our volunteers, EMT Eric March and EMT Jacob Simkovitz, who had transplanted to the Maryland area for work reasons,” Arnold said. “They visited the station and were able to get a copy of their policies, practices and see their building and ask questions. From there we built our own program with the cooperation of the Easton Volunteer EMS membership and the Easton EMS Commission.”

Arnold began reaching out to local universities, many of which were willing to help the recruitment process by posting the college live-in program on various platforms. The program offered interested college student emergency medical technicians the opportunity to volunteer for the midnight to 7 a.m. shift at Easton’s EMS in exchange for a free room for a semester.

Having served as an EMT for the Brewster Ambulance Service in Massachusetts, and pursuing a career path as an emergency room doctor, Barlow was immediately drawn to the opportunity.

He currently holds both a Massachusetts and a Connecticut EMT license, is certified in CPR and AED (automated external defibrillator), and is part of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, allowing him to practice in 48 out of 50 states.

Taking advantage of the opportunity gives Barlow the patient contact hours needed to apply to postgraduate medical programs, and the firsthand experience of being the “unofficial doctor,” as he put it, taking care of patients on a medical scene.

“Chris Barlow, our very first live-in, has very quickly adjusted to college live-in life, running calls with the Easton EMS volunteers and paid day staff so much so that it really feels like he’s been here all along,” Arnold said.

“When I first started, all the members were very welcoming,” Barlow said. “They introduced themselves right away. A lot of members who aren’t as active made a point to come in on the weekend to introduce themselves. A lot of the members have years of experience and taught me how Easton does things.”

Barlow’s day begins much like that of most college students. He wakes up, goes to class, hits the gym, and spends time with friends on campus. Then it’s back to the EMS, where he “jumps on every call he can go on,” said fellow EMT Peg Shukie, and he covers the midnight to 7 a.m. shift.

“I could not have asked for a better introductory EMT to kick off the start of our live-in program,” Arnold said. “He’s a hard worker and valued volunteer asset to not only Easton EMS but to the town of Easton.”

Barlow’s presence provides an “extra measure of security that calls are being covered and someone is always here,” Shukie said.

Chris Barlow’s private room at the EMS is a quiet and comfortable space to relax between his classes and emergency calls. — Alexandra Kushnir photo

Chris Barlow’s private room at the EMS is a quiet and comfortable space to relax between his classes and emergency calls. — Alexandra Kushnir photo

Since Barlow moved in, not a single call on the midnight shift has been missed. He has responded to at least 30 calls since he began in December.

Barlow said that responding to EMS calls “makes you feel like you’re making a difference in the citizens of Easton’s lives. They call at some of the worst times of their lives. When you call 911 there’s an issue.

“People are afraid and it feels good to help someone. Even when I’m not scheduled to be working, if I’m at school hanging out or watching TV at EMS, if a call comes in and we don’t have a full crew I hop on the truck and go to the call.”

“It’s a brotherhood,” said Shukie, and Barlow has “added to the family feeling around here.”

Barlow plans on continuing to volunteer at the Easton EMS throughout his next three years at Sacred Heart.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “My first semester I was on campus living in campus housing and wasn’t involved in Easton EMS. Coming over to Easton got me to really understand that I need to be doing something like this with the rest of my life or else I won’t be making a difference. It backed up my future career choice. I know I’m making the right decision.” Recruitment for the college live-in program is ongoing. To apply, visit the Easton Volunteer EMS website:

EMT Chris Barlow. — Alexandra Kushnir photo

EMT Chris Barlow. — Alexandra Kushnir photo


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