Community Heroes: Students Stepping Up

Colgate offers students numerous options to get involved with health services in Hamilton and the surrounding area, including the Hamilton Fire Department, Southern Madison County Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SOMAC), and Madison EMS. The Hamilton Fire Department offers assistance in fire safety situations as well as medical services to residents of the village. SOMAC is a non-profit organization that also serves the Hamilton community, focusing on medical calls. While Hamilton Fire Department and SOMAC take primarily Colgate students as volunteers, Madison EMS, which serves the Village of Madison and the surrounding Madison County area, has both volunteers and paid staff.

The Hamilton Fire Department enlists about 20 Colgate students, typically with five or six from each class year. Each student volunteer must undergo basic training their first year with the department, including Exterior Firefighting Operations (EFO) in the fall, and Interior Firefighting Operations (IFO) in the spring. Once both sets of training are completed, volunteers can help with jobs involving burning buildings and other fire emergencies around Hamilton. 

Given that student volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, senior Carter Hawthornetwaite explains that balancing school and firefighting can be difficult.

“[A challenge is] making sure you stay on top of all of your assignments and your classwork,” Hawthornetwaite said. “So that you can have the ability to get up and leave in the middle of either class or whatever it is you’re doing and have to potentially be on the scene of a house fire for six or seven hours.”

Though being on call 24/7 can be demanding for student volunteers, Hawthornetwaite explains that attendance is never an issue.

“The people that are in the department, we care about the work that we’re doing,” Hawthornetwaite explained. “It’s a volunteer department, so if we don’t show up, who is going to show up? Everybody’s dedicated and we all show up as much as we can. It’s never a problem getting people to show up to the calls. We just don’t have enough space on the trucks to fit everybody that comes.”

Sophomore Camille Goodhart, who serves as the Student Coordinator for the Hamilton Fire Department, agrees that the group functions as a supportive community:

“The [Hamilton Fire Department] is really just a family. We’re all here to support each other because we’re equally passionate about what we do. I think that’s really special and not something you see in every community at Colgate. Because the department is demanding in a unique way, it also is rewarding because of how demanding it can be.”

For SOMAC training, student volunteers must take an EMT class in their first year of involvement. Once certified, students do two four-hour shifts and an hour-long training each week. SOMAC typically has about eight to ten Colgate students per class involved each year.

Senior Sarah Hiranandani explains that working as the student coordinator for SOMAC has allowed her to interact with a diverse group of Colgate students.

“It is a really great program that offers a lot to various different people, so you really get to hang out with students that are pretty different from you and you maybe wouldn’t interact with all that much,” Hiranandani said. “Because it’s not just students that are interested in healthcare. It’s also students that are really excited about EMS specifically and like being able to volunteer for the community.”

Similar to SOMAC, the training to join Madison EMS requires students to take a class for two to three hours a week, plus their EMT test, which consists of the Practical Skill Exam (PSE) and a written test. Unlike SOMAC and the Hamilton Fire Department, Madison EMS is slightly less demanding, as students are only required to attend one three-hour shift per week and a training session about once a month — although it’s still a serious undertaking.

Senior and student coordinator Danielle Goldbaum describes Madison EMS as a unique opportunity to get involved in the greater Madison County community.

“[Madison EMS is] more of an experience of calls in the real world because [Hamilton Fire Department and SOMAC] are obviously more campus-based because they’re closer to the area and we’re a little bit farther out,” Goldbaum said. “So you see a lot of calls from a different population … It’s been really nice to see a real impact and a real change on people that you might not even know and are a little more removed from your regular circle and everyday bubble.”

Though the application process, training and involvement in Colgate’s health-related student organizations are intense, Goldbaum offers advice to any interested students.

“Make sure you’re passionate about [emergency healthcare] as a time commitment,” Goldbaum said. “They’re a lot of fun. Once you start the whole process, it’s a really long journey. Make sure you’re dedicated, but I think you do find that dedication along the way if you didn’t originally start with that.”