By Cady Schulman / cschulman@atljewishtimes.com

Emory EMS Director Rachel Barnhard celebrates commencement in May with new Emory graduates.

Emory EMS Director Rachel Barnhard celebrates commencement in May with new Emory graduates.

Students who volunteer as emergency responders for Emory University’s Emergency Management Service may see themselves as inadequate compared with their professional counterparts at agencies throughout metro Atlanta, but the recent regional Emergency Medical Service of the Year award for Emory EMS is a reminder that the student first responders are the same as full-time emergency medical technicians.

In winning the award, Emory EMS beat out agencies such as those serving Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas counties.

“They have the same training and the same licensure,” said Rachel Barnhard, the Emory EMS director. “They’re really good EMTs, and I think this kind of helps solidify them. They are the same as any other EMT practicing around them. It’s a big confidence builder.”

It wasn’t the only award Emory EMS won this year. Emory’s chief of EMS, Morgan Taylor, was named the region’s EMT of the Year.

This year’s Emory EMS unit is the region’s Emergency Medical Service of the Year.

This year’s Emory EMS unit is the region’s Emergency Medical Service of the Year.

“There are thousands of EMTs in our region; we won two awards,” said Barnhard, a lifelong member of Temple Kol Emeth in East Cobb. “We’ve never won any awards in our region. That was a really big deal for us.”

Emory EMS had never even been nominated for the EMS of the Year award.

“It puts the spotlight on us,” Barnhard said. “You want to make sure you continue to do really good things. It energizes them to continue doing good things and that what they’re doing is being noticed.”

Four of the five command staffers for Emory EMS are Jewish. In April, the four students plus an EMT who is Jewish but not on the command staff traveled to Barnhard’s home for her family’s Passover seder.

Rachel Barnhard teaches her EMT class in 2012.

Rachel Barnhard teaches her EMT class in 2012.

“That keeps us pretty close, which is kind of cool,” Barnhard said.

In addition to running calls on the Emory campus and to surrounding businesses, the college’s EMTs do a lot of community outreach, such as checking blood pressure at events and setting up a table during the campus’s Wonderful Wednesdays to tell passers-by what resources are available to them and when to call 911, among other topics. The EMTs also conduct CPR and first-aid training throughout the year; help out with blood drives; talk to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and children at day care centers about EMS; and are working on a research project with Emory University Hospital.

“They wonder, is that reaching people? Do people care? Are we doing a good job?” Barnhard said. “I think this helps them see that, yes, they’re doing a good job.”

While Emory’s EMTs run calls just like full-time first responders, there are major differences. A county agency may have the same EMTs and paramedics for years, while Emory’s student-run agency sees EMT and command staff turn over every one to three years.

“The maximum amount of time we’ve had anyone on command staff is two years,” Barnhard said. “It takes quite a while for someone to make it to command staff. Our command staff is new almost every year, and EEMS is new at least every three years. We fluctuate a lot with our capabilities. It’s totally dependent on the group. We have a great group for the next year.”

Barnhard has led Emory EMS as its full-time director since 2009, the first person to hold that position. She also teaches the college’s EMT classes.

“I think the thing I really enjoy the most is that as an organization we really love EMS,” she said. “Our people are really inspired. They want to do a good job. And they’re doing it solely out of a desire to serve.”