Life of the Party

For drunk CU students, SEMS volunteers lend a helping hand.

Feldman, a junior from New Jersey who's considering med school, tells Speidel what he missed earlier that evening. "This guy got off the bus and took one look at me and was like, 'Oh, shit!' -- like he was busted or something," he says with a laugh. "I was like, 'No man, it's cool.' And then he said, 'Really? Because I just smoked a bowl.' I said, 'Whatever, man, just don't die, and you and I will be cool.' And then he was like, 'And if I just did a key bump?' I just told him, 'Buddy, you do what you want to do, okay? I'm just here to make sure you don't die.'"

Speidel laughs, too. He's familiar with all the misconceptions about SEMS, how students worry that the volunteer EMTs will rat on people having a good time. But the group's goal is much more altruistic: The volunteers are here to save the lives of kids that doctors might never have a chance to reach.

A shitfaced boy who doesn't look a day over seventeen approaches the team, taking in their matching uniforms and bag of medical equipment. "So, are you guys, like, paramedics or something?" he manages to ask.

Dr. Ted Young supervises the SEMS volunteers.
Jim J. Narcy
Dr. Ted Young supervises the SEMS volunteers.

"No, we're EMTs," Feldman replies.

The drunk looks Feldman up and down, then nods his head. "Yeah, that's cool," he slurs in his best Fonz. "I used to be a lifeguard."

On September 17, 2004, the brothers living in the Chi Psi house in Boulder woke up to find that Lynn "Gordie" Bailey Jr. had not: The eighteen-year-old freshman pledge from Dallas was lying dead on the floor. During a long night of initiation events, Bailey and the other pledges had been taken to the mountains near Gold Hill, where they were told to help finish four 1.75s of whiskey and six 1.5-liter bottles of wine. After they'd taken down the booze, the pledges were returned to the house, where a keg was tapped and the drinking continued. Bailey passed out and never came to. His blood alcohol content was measured at .328, more than four times the state's legal limit.

Coming less than two weeks after the death of Samantha Spady, a sophomore at Colorado State University who'd died after a night of heavy drinking at a CSU frat house, Bailey's death had a very sobering effect on the CU campus. Candlelight vigils were held, and the Chi Psi chapter disbanded. Bailey's parents came to Boulder, where they helped set up Guidelines and Objectives of Responsible Drinking (GORD) with some of the Chi Psi brothers. And the school itself set up a program to educate incoming freshmen about alcohol and its potential for abuse.

"That taught us we needed to get ahead of the curve," says Robert Maust, chair of the university's standing committee on substance abuse. "We have students coming to us with a higher level of drinking experience by the twelfth grade than ever before, so we try to educate entering freshmen before they are even on campus taking classes."

But while the administration focused on educating students who had yet to enter CU, Anthony Rossi, a 21-year-old junior at the time, couldn't shake the feeling that Bailey didn't have to die. "It hit me hard," Rossi remembers, "because I had pledged a fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon. And as a member of a fraternity, it just got to me that he died at a pledge event. I kept thinking that if I was there, I would have known this kid was dying."

An EMT studying for a degree in molecular, cellular and development biology, Rossi knew there were other CU students with EMT training, many of them pre-med, who had nowhere to use their skills. He also realized that the total-abstinence solutions being kicked around on campus were unrealistic.

"It's impractical to tell kids not to drink," Rossi says. "College culture has been around for hundreds of years, and drinking has always been a part of it. But recently there has been this move toward excess and not toward responsibility. So I just thought it would be great if we could teach college kids the skills so that they could party the way they wanted to -- but if something happens, they would know how to deal with it. Or better yet, if we could make a program where we could come in as both students and trained EMTs to parties."

He took the idea to Ted Young, an instructor for one of his sociology classes and a registered emergency physician. Young thought it had promise, but he knew that the concept of students administering medical treatment to other students would scare university administrators.

"There were always considerations about liability," Young says. "Anthony is the dreamer and I'm the practical one, so I was full of, 'How are you going to manage this? What are you going to do with this problem? How are you going to manage people who have never been EMTs before, who basically have an EMT license but they've never done it? How are we going to convince the administration that this is not a liability, but a non-liability?'"

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