College volunteers help Farmville, Prince Edward communities

Published 12:49 pm Monday, January 1, 2024

Neil Miller practically grew up in a firehouse because his father was a volunteer firefighter back home in Woodbridge. When Miller arrived at Longwood he knew he wanted to find a way to serve and give back to the community. So, he contacted the Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad (PEVRS).

The first squad member the business administration major interacted with was Zach Kim, then a member of the rescue squad. Miller started riding along on calls with Kim and immediately he was hooked.

“I loved what they did. I love their mission,” said Miller, who passed his national Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification exam before the start of his sophomore year. “I love treating patients and getting them the proper care they need. I especially love getting to know the local community because, being from NOVA, this is a very different place.”

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The seven Longwood students and 10 alumni currently on the squad make up roughly a third of the PEVRS staff and volunteers. Miller is the only student fully cleared as a provider. That means he can drive an ambulance as well as ride in the back and treat patients. He has a radio and a pager at his house that he keeps on from 7 p.m. to midnight. If a tone call goes out he throws on his equipment and runs to his car to meet his fellow first responders at the squad house where they are dispatched to the scene.

PEVRS serves the Town of Farmville, Prince Edward County and part of Cumberland County. Emergency Management Services is a demanding profession. Calls come at all hours and under all conditions. It can be both physically and emotionally demanding. But the students and alumni involved in the squad all cite a love of service and desire to give back as the primary reason they volunteer.

Like Miller, as soon as Ashley Seiders knew she was coming to Longwood she researched the local volunteer fire department and rescue squad and applied to join PEVRS. The Mechanicsville, Virginia native was certified as an EMT before she arrived in Farmville.

“I had been super involved in my hometown community all throughout middle and high school,” Seiders said. “So, when I came here I wanted to be able to give back to this community that houses me and supports me, and this was a surefire way to get to do that.”

Seiders, a biology major with a pre-med concentration, spends at least six hours a week at the rescue squad running 911 dispatch calls. Sometimes it means late nights without much sleep and then going to class the next morning. Seiders, who will soon be fully cleared to both ride and drive like Miller, recalled that last Halloween she was out running calls and didn’t get home until 5 a.m. Still, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s just fun.”

Beyond running squad calls, students also enjoy the camaraderie of the rescue squad and getting to staff community events such as high school football games, local fairs and parades.

“It’s fun to get to interact with people,” said Seiders, who dressed up as Cindy-Lou Who from The Grinch for last year’s Farmville Christmas parade. “Little kids come up and ask ‘Can I look inside the ambulance?’”

EMTs are a critical link between the scene of an emergency and the health care system. They have basic knowledge and skills necessary to stabilize and safely transport patients ranging from non-emergency and routine medical transports to life-threatening emergencies.

Katya Mayer ’24 was taking classes at a community college studying to be a paramedic when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Due to the pandemic and her mother being high-risk health-wise, she decided to switch gears and transfer to Longwood to pursue a degree in business administration. She was driving around Farmville and pulled into the local firehouse to see if they needed volunteers. She started volunteering with Farmville Fire and that led to her taking an EMT class and eventually joining PEVRS.

Mayer and other students said that volunteering on the squad serves as a reset of sorts—a way to decompress and destress.

“Being at the rescue squad it’s a different mindset than school,” Mayer said. “It’s very fascinating and it’s never the same. I get to think very differently. I’m not thinking about business. I’m not thinking about my exams. When the tones drop — you go. And I love that reset and seeing the impact it has.”

Growing up in Northern Virginia Mayer said she didn’t fully understand the important role volunteer EMTs and firefighters play in rural communities until she came to Farmville. She has completed the EMT class and is studying for the national certification exam, which she plans to take over the winter break. She volunteers about six hours a week at PEVRS and appreciates having the flexibility to work around her classes and other activities.

“They’ve always been really respectful that we’re students first,” she said of the PEVRS staff. “If they know it’s exam week for us, they understand. They appreciate that students come and volunteer.”

Miller spends about 12 hours a week at the squad house, which is a second home away from home for many of the student volunteers. Friday night is usually a big night as many of the volunteers show up so that the paid crew can take a much-deserved break.

“We’re a family—one that’s very close-knit and connected,” he said. “Every person there has made an impact in my life in some way.”

Regardless of where they end up after graduating from Longwood, Miller, Seiders and Mayer all said they will continue to serve in their communities.

Seiders plans to continue her education to become a physician’s assistant. She is on track to have 2,000 clinical hours when she graduates and has already logged 500 hours at the rescue squad. Last summer she worked at Richmond Ambulance Authority as an EMT and she also works at Centra Health in Farmville, which counts towards her clinical hours.

Miller’s original career goal was to become a firefighter paramedic. But now he’s considering business career opportunities. He plans to continue his training and get certified as a paramedic. He recently joined the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department back home and over the next few years will work to get his fire and extrication certification.

“When you become a provider, your sole responsibility is keeping that patient alive,” Miller said. “It’s a big responsibility to have, but it’s also one that can shape you as a person. It allows you to gain confidence in yourself and it allows you to manage multiple tasks all at once. As a business major, I’ve seen it help me because I can now do four or five different things all at once because it’s a part of our duty to multitask.”