It’s Sunday at 6 a.m., and most SUNY Oneonta students are still fast asleep. But Griffin Felshman, a junior studying psychology, is on his way to his third emergency call of the night alongside other members of OSES, the university’s student-run EMS squad.
Felshman is one of 30 student volunteers who make up the Oneonta State Emergency Squad, certified by New York as a basic life support emergency medical service agency. Working the required 12 hours a week, with a team of 3 to 5 students per shift, OSES members respond to all emergency medical calls on campus, from cuts and scrapes to unconsciousness. They also do safety escorts and educational outreach, hosting classes for peers and clubs on CPR, bleeding control and how to handle emergencies.
Created in the 90s, the group is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will be recognized with the Alumni Association’s “Red Dragon Spirit Award” during Alumni Weekend, June 9-11.
“This award is a real honor,” said Dave Lincoln, SUNY Oneonta Emergency Manager and OSES’ advisor. “Having OSES right on campus allows for faster response times to emergencies, which, no doubt, has saved lives over the last 30 years. OSES is a family, and I couldn’t be prouder of its many members – past and present.”
First on the Scene
The OSES story begins three decades ago, when three motivated SUNY Oneonta students – Evan Kushner, Marc Habif and Jason Goldsmith – created the “Student Medical Response Team,”“SMRT” for short. Not officially recognized or funded by the college at that time, the students used a Suburban donated by one of their dads to get around campus.
A second wave of dedicated students, including David Halpern, Mary Kate Tuohy, Brian Fritz and Dominick DiNapoli, built upon this foundation and, with help and guidance from administration and the Oneonta Fire Department, “OSES” was born.
Today, OSES alumni work in a variety of fields and professions, in classrooms, hospitals and fire departments, everywhere from the U.S. Navy to the Division of Homeland Security. DiNapoli, Class of 1997, is a Physician Assistant at St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he’s worked the last 23 years in the emergency department.
“Coming into school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but OSES steered me in the right direction and changed my life,” said DiNapoli, Sr. Network Manager of Emergency Medicine - Advanced Practice. “It taught me how to manage and run an organization, it taught me to take responsibility, and it created connections for me that opened doors. Letters of recommendation I received because of OSES helped me get into PA school. … I feel very fortunate to have been part of this organization in its infancy and see it grow.”
Eran Muto, also from the Class of 1997, is a doctor with Rochester General Health System’s Emergency Department. Majoring in biology at Oneonta, she thought she wanted to become a veterinarian – until she joined the OSES family.
“OSES was my first real deep dive into human medicine, and I fell in love with it,” Muto said. “I learned a lot about the level of dedication it takes, as well as the importance of empathy in patient care. I remember having to respond to a student in a diabetic crisis – in any scenario that’s scary for the patient, but when you’re a student away from home that becomes even scarier. On top of treating patients medically, it’s so important to be able to provide that level of comfort for them, and that’s something I use to this day, every day.”
A New Generation
For Nicole Pike, a junior majoring in biology, being part of OSES has validated that she’s on the right path.
“I’m doing the school’s pre-med track, and I want to be a doctor, possibly a neurosurgeon,” Pike said. “OSES has assured me that I want to be in the medical field. It’s also helping me get hours required to get into medical school.”
This school year alone, OSES members responded to at least 100 calls, according to Lincoln. Being part of OSES is “a huge time commitment” and students are required to maintain a certain GPA, according to Illana Ger, the current OSES president and a junior psychology major. But all of that is “worth it a million times over.”
“The time management and organization and responsibility skills I’ve learned will take me through the rest of my life, and it’s something I’ll keep up in order to help out wherever I go,” Ger said. “But my favorite part is the relationships you make. Being able to help someone in a moment that wasn’t their best for whatever reason – it’s extremely rewarding.”
Ryan O’Reilly, Class of 2021, was a member of OSES all four years at SUNY Oneonta, eventually becoming squad captain. Although he earned his degree in Adolescent Education: Spanish, he stuck with his first love and works as a paramedic and assistant chief for an ambulance company on Long Island.
“To say that OSES opened a lot of doors for me would be a total understatement,” O’Reilly said. “I was involved in roundtable exercises, leadership meetings, emergency preparedness, and the response to all kinds of incidents. It was an experience that I would never trade. I made lifelong friends and gained experience as a leader in my early 20s that would normally take years to accumulate. I’m very proud of the work OSES did while I was there and continues to do today.”
Felshman said he doesn’t mind long, overnight OSES shifts; it’s “a good cause” and, during down time, “you get to bond with the other members in the bunk room (inside Morris Hall).”
“Growing up in Manhattan after 9/11, being a first responder was especially respected, so that’s when I first became interested,” Felshman explained. “It just feels good to help others … Someday, I want to open my own psychology practice, while continuing as an EMT on the side. It’s such a part of my life now that I can’t see not doing it.”