Temple Police, faculty, alumni and students gathered inside the police station at 12th Street and Montgomery Avenue on Feb. 28 to honor the members of Temple University Emergency Medical Services for five years of service on Main Campus.
TUEMS is a student-run, volunteer organization of trained EMTs and first responders who respond to medical emergencies on Main Campus. The idea for the program was conceived in 2005.
Long-time friends Paul Grodziak and Zachary Reichenbach, came up with the idea for TUEMS during their time as undergraduates. The two were previously EMT-certified and missed being able to exercise their skills.
“We were just, like, there is no where around here to volunteer,” Grodziak said.
The idea was then followed up by a meeting with university police.
“We just said, ‘Hey, let’s carry around a backpack and pass out Band-Aids,” Grodziak said.
“The plan was for me to go big and for Paul to go conservative and I remember the police grilled us for a little bit. I thought the meeting was going downhill, I thought they were going to shoot us down,” Reichenbach said.
Reichenbach’s premonitions proved to be wrong. That meeting was the foundation of the TUEMS program.
Fellow students Val Rakita and Anthony Wiencek joined the project a short time later, and with Grodziak and Reichenbach, they all collectively composed the “Founding Four,” a name used to refer to them by Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Carl Bittenbender, who was present during the initial meetings.
“Zach was the persistent one,” Bittenbender said of the four. “Then we had Anthony the schmoozer, Val was very steady, and Paul – well I guess you need an aggressive one.”
With the help of Bittenbender and other members of police force staff, the founding four built TUEMS from the ground up.
“When we first started we were running out of an office in the university services building and we had two milk crates, a desk and a file cabinet,” Grodziak said.
Fellow founder Wiencek also explained that, even though it was approved in 2005, it took three years for the program to begin active service. Their first call was on Jan. 28, 2008.
“I had one semester of actually going live and then I graduated,” he said. “Three years of work, for four months of actually doing it.”
“It was a year and a half or two years where it was just like paperwork, straight paperwork,” Grodziak said.
Since then, the program has grown to include 29 EMTs and 11 EMS officers.
“It’s mind-blowing, the numbers that are here; the continuity and the continued growth and the success,” Wiencek said.
Medical Director Dr. Michael Wang, Deputy Director of CSS Charlie Leone, Capt. Denise Wilhelm and the rest of the university police force were also recognized at the gathering.
“In the beginning, you start this and you wonder, ‘How are the police officers going to react?’ and it went much, much smoother than I ever anticipated,” Bittenbender said.
It was made clear throughout the presentation by Bittenbender and the Founding Four, that TUEMS has surpassed its greatest expectations.
“There’s such a strong urban interface between Temple and the community, so the variety of calls that we see and the variety [of] things that we respond to is far different than any other campus EMS program in the country,” Grodziak said.
Reichenbach also expressed gratitude toward the police department.
“It’s been phenomenal working with the police,” Reichenbach said. “Seven years of an excellent work relationship.”
Bittenbender concluded the event by honoring all of those involved in the organization.
“I can’t think of a better student organization than you folks. So the first five [years] are down, let’s hope there’s 50 more, congratulations to you all – really thank you very much,” Bittenbender said.
Cindy Stansbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.