On most weekends, Rachel Trumpy makes the two-hour commute from Elmhurst to the rolling hill country along the Illinois-Wisconsin line, just north of Freeport. Trumpy, a senior chemistry major, grew up there, in tiny Dakota, Illinois (population: 506). But she doesn’t go back looking for a home-cooked meal or a little help with the laundry. She goes to save lives.
For the past three years, Trumpy has worked as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) in Monroe, Wisconsin, just across the state line from her hometown. She spends most weekends and school breaks working 12-hour shifts at the Green County Emergency Medical Service station in Monroe. Her job is to respond to 911 calls, provide necessary pre-hospital care and get patients to hospital emergency rooms for medical attention.
Trumpy admits that her weekend routine may not be the most relaxing way to unwind after a long week of classes. She and her colleagues never know when they will have to scramble to respond to an emergency call, and sleep is sometimes not an option. But, she says, the job offers benefits that cannot be ignored.
“You get a good feeling knowing that you can do something to help someone else,” she said. “You’re working with people in the most dire situations. Getting a thank you and a handshake at the emergency room is a powerful thing.”
Trumpy’s interest in emergency response dates back to her childhood in Dakota. She remembers being fascinated by the occasional spectacle of a speeding fire truck or ambulance. “I’d hear sirens and wonder what they were doing,” she said. “And I’d wonder if I could help.”
She completed an intensive EMT training course during the summer of 2011, and now holds both national and state licenses certifying her as an EMT. Green County EMS regulations require EMTs to work at least 96 hours each quarter, so Trumpy hustles home whenever her school schedule permits.
Her interest in emergency response has even infiltrated her academic life. Last summer, with funding from an Elmhurst Honors Program Summer Research Fellows grant, she investigated the causes and effects of delays in response times for emergency calls in Green County. She presented her findings at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in New Orleans in November.
Trumpy said that the goal at Green County EMS is to be “out the door in four”—that is, to have EMTs in an ambulance and headed to the scene of an emergency within four minutes of a call. Her study of 140 calls fielded by Green County EMS in the first six months of 2013 showed that, while it's desirable to respond to calls quickly, small differences in response times didn't affect responders’ ability to get patients to the hospital without adverse affects.
Trumpy’s project adds to the growing body of literature that aims to measure the importance of response times in saving lives during emergencies. Trumpy said that the need for speed in responding to some kinds of cases needs to be balanced with an awareness of the potential costs of rushing to and from emergency scenes.
“Too much focus on response times can be dangerous,” she said. Ambulances crash with alarming frequency, especially when “running hot,” or speeding with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Even the lights and sirens themselves can cause problems. “They get everyone’s adrenaline up, including the EMTs and the patients in the back of the ambulance. That may not be the healthiest thing.”
Presenting her research at the honors conference in New Orleans gave Trumpy her first taste of explaining her work before a large audience. “I was really surprised at how many people were there and how many people were interested” in her project, she said. Next, she is preparing to present her findings to another important audience: her supervisors at Green County EMS, who encouraged her research.
On a typical weekend shift, Trumpy and her fellow EMTs may respond to callers who report breathing difficulties, chest pain or injuries from a fall. Sometimes, she is called on to perform CPR and other lifesaving measures. But even when no calls are coming in, she and her colleagues are all about emergencies. They sometimes watch Chicago Fire, the NBC TV series about firefighters and paramedics, if only to howl in protest at the scenes that don’t ring true. “Mostly I watch that show to yell at it: ‘Your procedures are all wrong!’” Trumpy laughed.
After she graduates from Elmhurst in 2014, she plans to attend medical school, perhaps in the University of Illinois’s rural medicine program. She envisions herself caring for the people of farm communities like Dakota, where her family has owned farms for four generations.“I love small-town life,” Trumpy said. “And I like doing something for other people.”