During the tumultuous 1968 riots, a few dedicated Columbians organized a ragtag crew of untrained medical volunteers. When an angry suspended student shot the dean of Columbia College four years later, the small team mobilized and rushed him to St. Luke’s Hospital. The dean recovered, and the students became campus legends. CAVA was born. To transport patients, the life savers refurbished an old station wagon with a light and rotating piece of paper for a siren. Fast forward 40 years: CAVA (officially CU-EMS) owns a $150,000 ambulance.
Bwog finally got to talk to CAVA director and superman incarnate Alex Harstrick, CC’12, after two emergencies whisked him away. (Oh, and he’s an ambulance driver, rescue diver and ski patroller. Yes, we feel inadequate too). We’re embarrassed to admit we had our own misconceptions about CAVA (It really is free!!). Below, we clarify some things.
- CAVA isn’t just the older brother you call to pick you up when you’re shwasted and sprawled on street. Only 15% of all calls are alcohol related. That said, if you’re drunk and fall on your head, CAVA wouldn’t consider that a pure alcohol case. But they still handle cardiac arrests, strokes and the like. “A lot of times people will think, ‘I don’t want to call FDNY, I’ll call CAVA’ They don’t see the two as being synonymous,” Alex explains. Three EMTs drop everything to attend to whatever you need. If you decide after CAVA checks you out that you don’t want to go to the hospital, then that’s fine. But if you never intended to go to the hospital in the first place, then you shouldn’t call an ambulance service.
- You can be CAVA’d as many times as you want without paying. “I’ve taken people more than five times, Alex says, “we will never charge you.”
- Last weekend, they got twenty calls, up from their average 16 per weekend. And CAVA responds faster than any other EMS agency in New York City. “We got a call while we were in the middle of another call,” Alex remembers, “so they dispatched FDNY because it was relatively serious—a guy who fell off his bike was was lying in the street. By the time we finished our current call and then got to the scene, FDNY still hadn’t arrived.” We’re not sure if that’s good news for CAVA or just looks really bad for FDNY, but impressive nonetheless. Response time is 6 minutes on average. (more…)