There are certainly some students who have no clue what an EMS is. I didn’t until I got the pitch to do this story, to be perfectly honest. Before this past weekend, my knowledge of the McGregor EMS was that they provide emergency medical service to Durham and surrounding areas. As I approached the station at 47 College Road on Friday night, I didn’t know what to expect, except for a unique experience.
Upon arriving at the station around 8:30 p.m., I first met with McGregor EMS Executive Director Bill Cote, a former UNH student.
“I was a student here in the early 1970s,” Cote said. “And during that time I took the second EMT course in the country, that was offered through the Department of Transportation.”
Cote studied pre-med at UNH, and eventually became the deputy chief of the Durham Fire Department before he applied for the McGregor position. Formed in 1968, McGregor EMS became a private, nonprofit organization as of four years ago, making Cote the first executive director, he explained.
According to Cote, the membership roster consists of approximately 70-75 volunteers, 60 percent of which are UNH students. McGregor EMS provides emergency medical service to Durham and the UNH campus, as well as the neighboring towns of Lee and Madbury. Cote gave me a tour of the station, which included seeing an ambulance’s interior. In the kitchen and common space area about seven volunteers were relaxing, making mention of their need for coffee during the night shift.
For almost two hours I sat with the volunteers in my “observer” vest. Around 10:45 p.m. Cote decided to drive me around campus in the passenger seat of Car 9. The first emergency alarm of the night sounded only seven minutes later. We drove to Wiswall Road in Durham, where Cote informed me that the emergency concerned an elderly individual with a history of cardiac issues. First responders from the fire department already occupied the scene and were bringing a stretcher out of an EMS ambulance and into a house.
Afterwards, Cote informed me that elderly emergencies typically occur in the early morning, making this a bit of an anomaly. Upon our arrival back to campus, UNH student nightlife was in full swing. We drove around “frat row” and then parked downtown outside the Durham House of Pizza (DHOP). The emergency alarm sounded again at 11:21 p.m., and we rushed to Bagdad Road, where police were examining two nearly unconscious students lying on the roadside. Volunteers in the second ambulance transported one of the students into the vehicle on a stretcher.
At 11:37 p.m., the voice over the intercom told us that the first ambulance had arrived at the Portsmouth Regional Hospital with the first patient. Cote proceeded to drive around campus, where groups of students wandered in search of parties. We parked outside DHOP again at 11:43 p.m. While we waited, I reflected on the events of the night so far. Just by traveling in the car with Cote, I got to see a type of bird’s eye view of Durham on a Friday night, the type of perspective I would never have gotten had I been wandering around town by myself. It was a lot to take in, and a bit disturbing and upsetting at times.
Cote and I waited for the next inevitable emergency, which occurred at 12:09 a.m. at 21 Madbury Road. As volunteers headed into the apartment with the stretcher, I learned that this was a “Status 1” call, requiring additional assistance from the fire department. Afterwards, Cote decided that it was time for me to call it a night. Returning to the station, I said goodbye to all of the volunteers and wished them luck with the rest of the night, learning later that two additional emergency calls occurred after I left.
Getting back to my apartment around 12:30 a.m., I had a lot of thoughts to process. I was in awe of the compassion, dedication and work ethic of the EMS volunteers. Coincidingly, I witnessed first-hand some of the most frightening and disturbing aspects of a night on a college campus; it took me a little longer than normal to fall asleep that night.