Student emergency medical technicians in Duke Emergency Medical Services handle serious cases of binge drinking while balancing their social and professional lives.

Despite responding to numerous alcohol-related calls, members of the EMS squad said that their personal opinions on Duke’s drinking scene have not changed.

Approximately 17 percent of the calls that Duke EMS receives are related to alcohol, mostly occurring at the end of the week, said Krishan Sivaraj, operations officer of Duke EMS. Squad members, however, must maintain professional behavior when providing care.

“Honestly, it is what it is, it's Duke culture—we drink,” Sivaraj, a junior, said.

T.J. Breshears, a second year graduate student in the Divinity School and equipment officer for Duke EMS, noted that although experiences with certain patients have shed light on the dangers of binge drinking, squad members are still normal students that make their own decisions.

“It’s a cautionary tale to us, but it doesn’t mean that Duke EMS has sworn off alcohol,” Breshears said.

For Sivaraj, the fact that EMS provides only medical attention and is uninvolved in repercussions from law enforcement helps him keep his work experiences from encroaching on his social life too much.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of us,” he said. “We’re not the cops, we’re here to help.”

The squad has members who are involved in fraternities, sororities and SLGs, Sivaraj said. When most squad members attend parties, they are just like any other student there, but are expected to take action when things spiral out of control and somebody needs help.

“We’re not there to say ‘Oh, you can’t this or that,’ but I’ve been at parties where I’ve had to take care of people,” he said. “People look to you because you’re an EMT and have the skills to help them.”

In those situations, however, Sivaraj said that it is always better to contact the EMS members who are on call, because the EMT at the party might be intoxicated as well.

“I’ve definitely been in that situation before where I’m here at headquarters and another EMT texts me about a situation at a party and says, ‘You should come here, I can’t deal with this right now,'” Sivaraj said.

For most calls, Sivaraj noted that he can usually tell which calls are for an intoxicated student based on the information relayed over the radio from DUPD dispatch.

“If it’s Friday or Saturday night and we get a call like ‘Giles dorm, 18-year-old patient, conscious, alert and breathing... you can usually guess that it’s probably a student who’s had a little too much to drink,” he said.

Although the squad members on call have their guesses as to whether their patient is suffering from excessive alcohol consumption, Sivaraj noted that certainty is difficult because other medical conditions present with similar symptoms.

“There was one time where we responded to a call that came and we all thought that it was some student that had drank too much, but when we got there and tested his blood sugar, it was at 20,” Sivaraj said. “Our patients can be diabetic or having a stroke, so we can’t just become desensitized and say, ‘Oh, it’s just another drunk Duke kid.’”

Squad members had varying opinions on the intoxication calls.

“Drunk people can be the most annoying calls that we get,” said senior Ming Wang, an EMS cadet. “They’re never helpful and don’t really cooperate with what we need to do to do our job.”

Despite the frustration of working with uncooperative patients, Duke EMS squad members try not to judge, said senior crew chief Jay Srinivasan.

“When people call us, it’s because they need our help and we’re there to do everything we can to help them," he said. "It’s as simple as that."

Sivaraj, said he enjoys some of the alcohol-related calls.

“When we get called to a frat section or something, I usually know some of the guys there and it’s sort of fun,” he said.

Sivaraj had a positive outlook on campus drinking culture. He noted that especially after the housing model was put into effect, drinking calls have been geographically concentrated, which has helped EMS respond more quickly and effectively to calls.

“A good amount of the calls we get are from Central Campus, and we’re really close by,” he said. “At places like UNC and NC State, it’s much more spread out.”

Sivaraj said the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University may not have student-led EMS teams because quick emergency responding is more difficult on a larger campus.