SUA senior saves DPS officer's life

Field supervisor Billy Fletcher arrived just in the nick of time to rescue Officer Stan Prue, who was struck by lightning.

The night began like any other for Billy Fletcher. The field supervisor was hanging out in the Syracuse University Ambulance quarters talking with the other responders when the call bell went off.

Fletcher arrived on the scene at south campus to see officer Ed Weber pounding on the chest of his partner Stan Prue. With each thrust, a puff of smoke protruded out of Prue’s motionless body.

Photo: Katrina Ragland
Senior Billy Fletcher balances a time consuming job with classes.

It was pouring rain on south campus, and Fletcher was tasked with saving the life of the unconscious Prue, who had been struck by lighting only moments prior.

“We’re trained as EMTs to deal with high stress situations, and obviously any time anyone’s hurt, it’s very high stress,” Fletcher said. “But it’s especially high stress when it’s one of your own community members. The stakes are higher.”

Fletcher likely saved Prue’s life that night. He acted like a seasoned veteran. But as a senior in college, Fletcher is far from it. Like many of the 63 undergraduate students that are the lifeblood of SUA, Fletcher came to SU without CPR certification. Even as he balanced a life of classes, SUA and some sleep, he and the other seniors in the program are nothing short of professionals.

“It’s definitely hard,” Fletcher said. “One week last semester I clocked over 70 hours in one week, and I had to go to class too. You learn to appreciate 20-minute naps whenever you can catch them on the futon or the bunk room in quarters.”

Fletcher is one of four field supervisors at SUA. The position is a highly sought after one, as it often takes four full years of dedication to even be considered for the job.

Students often start as a driver, then move up to attendant and crew chief, and continue up the ladder to supervisor. Once you get the job, it’s your duty to be the one out there saving lives like Fletcher did for Prue.
“It could have been a rat race,” Field Supervisor Megan LeBlanc said of the application process. “It instead turned into ‘how can we help each other grow,’ because we need to be able to lead an organization together, not tear ourselves against each other.”

LeBlanc and Fletcher basically live in quarters. Their 24/7 job doesn’t ever have an end of the day. Once a week, and sometimes more, they’re required to spend an entire night shift, or 15 hours, straight on call. The job doesn’t end when 8 a.m. rolls around either.

LeBlanc said she has a 9:30 a.m. class on Wednesdays after her shift. She goes home, showers and walks to class.

“Coffee is our best friend,” LeBlanc said.

The SUA program isn’t necessarily unique, but it’s farther ahead than many other colleges with similar programs. It is part of the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation, and only 16 other schools are members as well.  

Other schools are trying to model their programs after Syracuse’s. A student from a school in San Diego called Fletcher on Tuesday to get some advice for starting up a student-run EMT system. At the University of Indiana, there is a similar goal, but they don't have ambulances.

“They are certified as a non-transport organization,” said Scott Sargent, the clinical educator for IU Health. “They do not actually run vehicles.”

Syracuse has set the standard, and the process, to near perfection. Being in SUA takes the type of dedication that many might not have as a college undergraduate.

“People look at the students responding to these emergency calls and think ‘oh they get a page, they come out, they do a call, and they go back to class,’” SUA graduate Kris Ferrara said. “And for the most part that's pretty accurate, but these field supervisors are on call 24 hours a day.

“These kids who are already students dedicating time to their studies, they’re dedicating it to a full time job.”

Sometimes they might take a quick nap, but if someone calls in the middle of the night, a loud horn blasts and the lights turn on. It’s a rude awakening, but one that is also a call to action that they’re more than willing to make.

Weber, whose partner’s life was saved after they were both struck by that lightning bolt on September 1, said it took him a couple hours to realize that had it not been for Fletcher and SUA, he might be telling a much more grave story.

SUA was honored at a fundraiser for Prue, and it was there that Weber got the chance to personally thank Fletcher for his work.

“We have a close relationship with [SUA],” Weber said. “I thought about this later on, about what was going through their mind when they saw these were DPS guys. And you don't think about these things when the scene was happening.”

But Fletcher did what he had been trained to do over the past four years. With DPS and Metro Ambulance, and a somewhat injured Weber all watching, he and his SUA partner followed protocol to a tee in a life-saving effort.
“When I tell this story to people on the outside about SUA taking care of me,” Weber said, “they look at me, and ask who runs that ambulance. It’s all students. And they’re amazed.”

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