The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad was formed in 1969 to provide the best possible emergency medical care to the Virginia Tech community, as well as provide training and experience to those interested in emergency medicine. It is the oldest volunteer collegiate rescue squad in the country and the first in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The four founding members, Thomas Spain, Bobby Smallwood, Wayne Modena, and Richard Paul, who are often referred to as “the Tech Four”, were students at Virginia Tech interested in emergency medicine. The Tech Four applied to the Town of Blacksburg Fire Department and First Aid Crew but were denied membership because they were students. After some debate among themselves, they created their own first aid crew for the Virginia Tech campus. In December 1969, a constitution was drafted by the Tech Four and was submitted to the Student Constitution Affairs Board (SCAB). By January 1970, SCAB had approved the constitution, but further authorization was required from the Commission for Undergraduate Student Affairs (CUSA). After considerable delay, the VTRS was approved by CUSA on April 2, 1970.
The VTRS commenced operations, and by the end of May, the squad had answered 47 calls. During this time, the four members responded to the scenes in their personal vehicles because they did not have an ambulance. After assessing and initially treating the patient, the Tech Four would wait for the Blacksburg Fire and First Aid Crew to arrive and transport the patient. The Squad members soon learned that further approval was required by the University Council. Unfortunately for the VTRS, the University Council was preoccupied with student unrest on campus, such as the Williams Hall takeover. The Tech Four wrote letters to each of the 35 members of the University Council explaining the ideas and goals of the VTRS. Finally, on May 21, 1970, approval was granted and the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad was recognized as a legitimate student organization.
At the beginning of the 1970 fall quarter, VTRS had only four members, no money, and no headquarters. The Tech Four decided that the first order of business was to increase squad membership. With the help of WUVT advertising, the membership was increased to 45 members. Because the new members had little or no emergency medical training, the Tech Four taught two Advanced First Aid classes. By the end of that quarter, the VTRS had found a home in Squires 320. From this room, six crews pulled duty from 1730 until 0000. A budget was submitted to the Student Budget Board for the 1970-71 academic year. Out of the $14,938 requested for the squad’s budget, the VTRS was granted $2,700.
In August 1971, the purchase of an ambulance by the squad was approved by the university. The first unit, 131 (later called 15, and then 15-1) was delivered on January 21, 1972.
At this time, the VTRS members were allowed to respond to the emergency in the ambulance and initiate treatment, but they were not allowed to transport the patient to a medical facility. The Squad attempted to reach an agreement with Blacksburg that would allow VTRS to run calls on campus and to transport the patient. Although the negotiations with BFAC fell through, a copy of the proposed agreement was shown to Tech’s Vice President Cassell. Cassell stated that he saw nothing wrong with the proposal. This was taken by the VTRS members as an OK to proceed with the certification of 15-1 as an ambulance. In April 1972, 15-1 was certified by the state to transport patients; and the Squad began to do so (without permission of the University). Ten days after the VTRS started transporting patients, it abruptly ceased to do so. On April 20, 1972, the VTRS was threatened with suspension by the University for breaking the agreement regarding the use of 15-1.
The VTRS members continued to operate as normally as possible until November 10, 1972, when a letter was received which officially suspended the VTRS from any and all operations. The letter stated that the VTRS could only resume operations after reaching an agreement with BFAC concerning on-campus calls. Additionally, the agreement must be reached by January 1, 1973, or the crew would be dissolved and the ambulance would be confiscated and sold.
Tech Rescue was given the chance to make an agreement with BFAC and remain operative. The ensuing agreement made VTRS the Virginia Tech Unit of the Blacksburg First Aid Crew. The VTRS operated as a unit of BFAC from 1973 to 1980. During this period, VTRS covered on-campus calls just as before, but now with the blessing of the University and BFAC. However, VTRS members were not considered members of the BFAC and they were denied the right to vote on issues and elections as well as the right to attend the BFAC meetings. The VTRS continued to hold its own meetings and adhered to their own rigorous training programs. In 1978, the VTRS moved to the old jail across the street form the Blacksburg station in an effort to improve relations with BFAC. In 1980, the VTRS voted to split from the BFAC and once again become their own squad.
The Squad once again officially became the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad and moved its headquarters to 319 Squires. VTRS also gained status as part of the University proper instead of being considered a student organization. This entitled the Squad to money straight from the University, use of motor pool, access to Central Stores and many other privileges not ordinarily given to student organizations. In 1980, VTRS also received a new ambulance (the first 15-2) and began running calls at the Shock-Trauma level.
In 1982, the VTRS graduated its first Cardiac-Technicians and began to run as the first full ALS service in the immediate area. With the help of Dr. Desjardins, the VTRS was able to borrow (indefinitely) the Life-Pak 5 from Student Health so that the ambulances could be certified as ALS units according to state guidelines.
In 1983, the VTRS was given the old mailroom in the Military Building (our current station), which would have two bays for ambulances. The Squad received money in 1984 to purchase the first modern modular ambulance (15-3). In 1985, the Squad received a 170% budget increase, a new radio system, their own Life-Pak, and a car which was donated by Peter Shibuya’s family. In 1987, another ambulance (15-2) was purchased. In 1988, the VTRS was honored with the Leo Schwartz Emergency Medical Service award and a new car (15-1) was purchased to replace the original one.
In the fall of 1990, a cart (15.5) was donated to the VTRS from the Athletic Department for use during football standbys. VTRS was granted $7,500 in the spring of 1991 for the purchase of a Life-Pak 300, an automatic defibrillator. In the Fall of 1992, the VTRS was granted the money to buy two large disaster kits (each containing 4 mini jump kits) from the Athletic Department. These kits were used primarily for football standbys, but are available for mass casualty situations. Also in the fall of 1992, the VTRS purchased a new 15-1 (Caprice Classic). In the spring of 1994, a $27,000 grant was received from the State and a Ford, type 3 ambulance, was purchased. Two other grants were received that spring: one for $2,000 to purchase new radio equipment, and another for $8,500 for the purchase of the Zoll defibrillator.
In the summer of 1995, 15-1 was replaced with a GMC 1500 pickup truck. In 1997, we received money to puchase another ambulance to replace 15-2. The Ford, type 3, 4WD, was in service by May 1998. A new radio frequency was placed in service as well as multiple new radios and pagers. By February 1997, the squad had grown to over 40 members, many with ALS certifications. Many station improvements have taken place since that time, such as a kitchen, a sleeping quarters, and a meeting room.
In 2000, the VTRS received the highest award presented by the Office of EMS: the Governor’s Award for Outstanding EMS Agency in the Commonwealth in recognition for the squad’s high training standards. A year later, the squad put into service the first trailer designed to carry equipment to deal with Mass Casualty situations, capable of handing 30 patients. In the Spring of the 2002-03 academic year, the VTRS were voted Student Organization of the Year by the UUSA. The squad received funding from the Student Budget Board to send eight members to NCEMSF (National Collegiate EMS Foundation) conference in the spring of 2002. In 2003, the squad did a major revision to its Constitution and Policies. This revision brought about a change in the structure of the Executive Board, adding a student and faculty representative to offer opinions on how to better serve the community. During the summer of this year, the squad was also moved from being in the university proper to an auxiliary organization, and with the move, began strengthening bonds between Schiffert Health Center and the rescue squad. This change in the structure would allow the squad to submit a budget for the first time, and opened the door to the possibility of charging for our standby services.
In the summer of 2003, following IPMBA standards, Tech Rescue placed into service a cyclist response team. The equipment consisted of two EMS bikes and basic lifesaving equipment able to stabilize and treat patients in the field prior to ambulance arrival. The team became a big asset at football games and large crowd events, as they could negotiate crowds easier than an ambulance could.
A new 15-3, a Ford/Wheeled Coach Type III, was placed into service in 2004 to replace the aging Ford/McCoy-Miller. Along with this unit, Tech rescue decided to retire 15-1 and replace it with a new Chevy Tahoe which would be used as an ALS First Response vehicle. The outfitting of this vehicle will be done with funds from the Life Member Association and Schiffert Health Center. With the 2004 Auxiliary status given to Tech Rescue, anew budget was drafted which included money for uniforms and training for its members. The squad started teaching CPR and first aid classes on Tech’s campus for members of the community. Along with these classes, the VTRS secured an instructor and a room for teaching EMT-B classes on campus.
On April 16, 2007 the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad provided the emergency medical care in response to the two attacks on the Virginia Tech campus. We have received much recognition and support for our efforts including: the American Ambulance Association’s EMS Stars award, special recognition at WVEMS awards banquet, recognition by President George Bush at the commemoration ceremony on April 17th, recognition from the board of visitors (resolution 3A), recognition by Governor Tim Kaine at the first football game of 2007, and a reception at Virginia Tech’s President Steger’s home, the Grove. The tragedy demonstrated the cohesiveness of the EMS agencies in the area. Numerous agencies including Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Floyd, Longshop McCoy, and many others responsed to the MCI with many additional units and personnel, without which transport and treatment of the dozens of injured individuals would have been nearly impossible. The 16th will remain infamous for the thirty two lives lost and the dozens injured, but the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad can be proud that they responded to the event with professionalism and bravery.
The present and future
May 2019: Virginia Tech Rescue Squad celebrates 50 years
The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is among a handful of collegiate EMS agencies offering ALS transport and is slowly becoming one of the last all volunteer agencies left in collegiate EMS. It has been the model for developing rescue squads at many Universities throughout the United States. In the past thirty years the VTRS has grown from four members certified in first aid to a fully equipped Advanced Life Support Agency with four vehicles and over forty members.
By hosting first aid, CPR, alcohol awareness, and emergency awareness classes VTRS looks to make the Virginia Tech Campus a safer community. A VTRS ambulance can be found at every major event on Virginia Tech’s campus, including major sporting events.
Virginia Tech works closely with Blacksburg Fire department, and Blacksburg Rescue squad in frequent inter-agency trainings. Preparedness being of highest importance, a specially equipped command vehicle and trailer, heavily stocked special operations vehicle and trailer, bicycle team, and off-road special response vehicle is always kept at the ready. The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad provides emergency care and rescue for all campus happenings.
The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad looks to become a standard in emergency care. Raising awareness to prevent injury and providing care whenever requested, to combat injury from both aspects. We are always looking to improve and are excited to see what the future holds for Virginia Tech’s campus.