They don't wear capes and Lycra tights, or have secret identities obscured by masks. But for the past 20 years, the student volunteers behind HERU -- the Hopkins Emergency Response Unit -- have been the Homewood campus's superheroes.
Organized in 1983 as the First Aid Squad, the undergraduate group has expanded its services over the years to provide 24-hour emergency care to faculty, staff, students and visitors, treating minor injuries or summoning medical professionals for more severe cases.
HERU's staff of 63 teams with the Security Office and the Student Health and Wellness Center as standby medics for campus events such as Spring Fair and as emergency responders dispatched by Security. Volunteers are trained emergency medical technicians and American Red Cross First Responders, providing round-the-clock basic life support services during the academic year.
Last semester, HERU crews responded to 120 calls for a range of maladies, from cuts and bruises to serious calls requiring emergency room care.
"We see everything," said junior Trevor Adler, HERU's 2003 operations lieutenant. "With the new rec center, we get a lot of sports-related injuries. Another common call after-hours can be something like an employee experiencing chest pains."
HERU's dusk-to-dawn availability provides comfort not only to those who fall ill at an inconvenient time but to Homewood's medical staff as well, knowing that a trained caregiver is on the scene in their absence, said Alain Joffe, director of the Student Health and Wellness Center.
"The major advantage is the on-site presence of people who are trained to help in acute medical situations, particularly after-hours," Joffe said. "They can render first aid and stabilize a patient until the medics or the on-call physician arrives."
Ron Mullen, director of Security, Parking and Transportation Services, said, "HERU is comprised of many well-trained student volunteers. They are highly motivated and dedicated to providing top-notch emergency first aid in a skilled, sensitive and confidential manner.
"HERU is definitely a proven asset to the entire campus community but especially their fellow students to whom they are often called to administer aid," Mullen continued. "When they are on service, neither foul weather nor hour of the day or night ever deters them from immediately responding to the security dispatcher's call for emergency assistance. They're quite remarkable, and we're proud of our great working relationship."
In its early days, the group was on duty only during the student health center's operating hours. In 1994, the student volunteers decided to take on the challenge of providing round-the-clock care, becoming certified as American Red Cross First Responders. In 1995, the First Aid Squad changed its name to HERU and also created the Hopkins Emergency Response Teaching Unit, known as HERTU, so HERU members could train and recertify students through a 60-hour course, offered each semester to the Homewood community. Together, HERU and HERTU make up the Hopkins Emergency Response Organization, or HERO.
Volunteers work in eight-hour shifts in groups of three. Each student works one eight-hour shift per week; newer members work every other week at first, Adler said. Security dispatchers page HERU rescuers to the scene; during classes, they set their radios to a system of tones to alert them to a call.
"We usually travel to the scene on foot, but Security will give us rides for the long hauls," Adler said. "Our response time is two to three minutes."
Most of the time, Mullen pointed out, "they will arrive on a scene before the arrival of the Baltimore Fire Department's EMTs, and Baltimore has one of the fastest emergency response records in the country."
The crew's busiest time is between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., Friday into Saturday. Unusual circumstances such as the recent record-breaking snowstorm provide plenty of action for HERU as well. HERU held the fort when the medical staff couldn't travel to campus, Joffe said.
"Certainly during the snowfall, there were a lot of snow-related injuries that HERU was able to cover when we couldn't get to campus and the center was closed," Joffe said.
Helping others gives HERU students a chance to help themselves as well, Joffe said.
"There are lots of advantages to students who participate," Joffe said. "It gives them a place to channel their energy, and many who are premed are getting a head start on their careers."
"I'm prelaw," Adler said, "[but] most of us are premed, which is great real life experience for people thinking about becoming doctors. And it's been my experience that students are so much happier having us around," Adler said. "We lessen the fear factor for them."
To request emergency medical coverage for an event on the Homewood campus, e-mail HERU@jhu.edu with the date, time and location. In any medical emergency HERU can be contacted by calling Security at 410-516-7777 or by activating a blue light emergency phone. For additional information about HERU, go to heru.jhu.edu.