The roots of Columbia University EMS lie in the deadly student riots of 1968. During the riots, a staff member at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) was injured and was immediately rushed to the hospital. And so began Columbia University EMS. In the early years, it was little more than a dedicated volunteer crew of medically untrained Engineering faculty and staff assisting other colleagues in medical need around campus.
During the summer of 1972, the services of this volunteer crew were called upon, when a suspended student shot the dean of Columbia College near Hamilton Hall. Columbia's volunteer emergency medical team quickly responded to help the dean and commandered a borrowed station wagon to transport him to St. Luke's Hospital. The dean recovered and the emergency response team gained University-wide recognition.
This big save earned the initial volunteers their first ambulance, when in 1974, the SEAS staff retrofitted a van (Ford "Super Van") as the group's first official vehicle. This Super Van, officially termed "Vehicle 1", was custom rigged with emergency gear and stretchers and replaced the barrowed vehicles the Corps had been using. This volunteer crew received approximately 100 calls per year.
By the 1970's, Emergency Medicine had become its own medical specialty. The certification of an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) had been invented, and the United States had recently begun seeing Emergency Medical Services as an essential component to the safety of the population.
In 1980, two Columbia students interested in turning this group of untrained volunteers into an organized ambulance corps approached the department of security to propose the formation of such a corps. The department of security had already been planning such an organization. The department of security gave the corps an actual ambulance, "Vehicle 2." The collaboration resulted in the Columbia Area Volunteer Ambulance, or CAVA, a university wide, recognized EMS corps, with EMTs on call 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
CAVA rapidly became an integral part of the Department of Public Safety, and the university at large. Our medical support not only aids in the safety and health of the students but also save the university tens of thousands of dollars. To this day, Columbia University EMS, the Department of Public Safety, Health Services at Columbia, and the Trustees of Columbia University have a relationship of collaboration, cooperation and trust.
Only once has there been a conflict. In 1993, the corps demanded a new ambulance, as the 13-year-old ambulance was no longer in functional order, and deemed unsafe by the members of the corps. The university initially denied the funds, and in October of 1993, CAVA canceled service indefinitely. After a mere 10 days of being out of service, the pressure from the student body as well as the class councils caused the university to fold. Recognizing the crucial role CAVA played on campus, administrators agreed to purchase the corps a new ambulance, and in November of 1993, "Vehicle 3" made its debut to Columbia University. This ambulance is still in service and can occasionally be seen transporting patients during large scale events.
Throughout the years, Columbia University EMS has made a lasting impression on Columbia's campus. In 1997, the corps received a stork emblem from the city, when a crew successfully delivered a baby girl. During the tragic events of 9/11, the corps was put on alert, and while many of the ambulances were serving patients near the twin towers, CAVA was responding to all emergency calls in Morningside Heights. During this crisis, 10 students who were not accepted for membership by the corps earlier that semester, volunteered their efforts in any capacity they were needed.
In 2002, Columbia University EMS changed its official title from CAVA to Columbia University EMS. In 2003, Columbia University EMS celebrated 40 successful years of emergency care, by dedicating the new ambulance "Vehicle 4." This ambulance is the primary in service rig used by the corps at this time. In 2009 the corps switched to electronic documentation to aid in patient care and efficiency. The corps hopes to receive "Vehicle 5" within the next two years, and continue providing quality and dedicated care to the Columbia University campus and surrounding area.
Today Columbia University EMS has more than 45 active members and responds to over 800 calls a year. Active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, CU EMS has become an essential part of the university.