The reason for the first call to the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad in 1971?

A dropped refrigerator injuring a student’s foot in Pritchard Hall.

Whether it is helping ensure the well-being of 67,000 fans in Lane Stadium, responding to medical emergencies during a Blacksburg blizzard, or following up on a dropped refrigerator, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad (VTRS) has served the campus community wholeheartedly for the past 50 years.

Much like the enduring Hokie Stone-clad buildings across campus, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad is a university institution, woven into Virginia Tech’s rich history, major events, and daily happenings. 

The squad’s longevity over the past 50 years is a testament to members’ dedication and steadfast embodiment of Ut Prosim. In fact, VTRS is the oldest volunteer, all-student run, collegiate rescue squad in the country.

VTRS performs the same functions of a municipal rescue squad, handling nearly 1,200 emergency calls every year. In addition, the squad provides emergency medical services at all major university and athletic events on the Blacksburg campus.

In celebration of VTRS’ 50th anniversary, nearly 300 members of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad family came together for a weekend of reunion activities and a memorable banquet reception. Among the banquet highlights was a special presentation on VTRS’ unique history and the determined members who have helped the squad expand its capacity over the past 50 years.

While VTRS’ stations, vehicle fleets, and uniforms have evolved since 1969, the group’s tenacious service to the campus community has transcended the years.

For example, when founding members Wayne Modena (’73), Richard Paul (’73), Bob Smallwood (’73), and Thomas Spain (’73) encountered a myriad hurdles in launching the squad – wavering university approvals, lack of dedicated space, and an operating budget under $2,000 – the team pressed on, delivering emergency care and transporting community members in need to local hospitals to the best of their abilities.

Today’s squad is connected to their predecessors by that same unwavering tenacity and industry.

Most members dedicate upward of 40 hours each week to the squad, including one overnight in the VTRS station in the Military Building. VTRS also requires members to stay and serve during at least one school break annually.

Along with attendance at all major campus events, VTRS administers a full CPR/AED, first aid, Stop the Bleed, and EMT-Basic course schedule for the campus community, as well as the university Public Access Defibrillation (AED) program. The squad also competes regularly, and has earned high ranks, in state and national collegiate EMS competitions.

The squad has grown to around 45 members and an annual operating budget of approximately $170,000. VTRS continues to expand its capacity to serve the university, as well as its engagement with local emergency response agencies.

VTRS has been recognized for excellent service at the presidential level and by Virginia governors, the Department of Homeland Security, the American Red Cross, and many more organizations.

The squad’s tenacious spirit doesn’t just stay behind in Blacksburg when members graduate, either.

VTRS alumni impact almost every sector of the workforce today, especially in public service and medical fields. Countless alumni have gone on to pursue careers in medicine. They serve as leaders in all branches of the military. They serve as municipal leaders in major cities like Baltimore and in federal agencies like the FBI.

They lead emergency response agencies in cities, counties, and at the state level across the country. They serve as dedicated EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters in rescue squads. They work at major government contracting firms like BAE, run their own businesses, and even serve in the ranks of retail giants like Amazon and Nike.

“The real-world emergency response experiences, critical thinking opportunities, and sense of community that underscore the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad serve members in all facets of their lives,” said current VTRS Chief and senior Michael Geary.

While tenacity is undoubtedly a recipe for workforce success, it’s also a key ingredient for love, too.

Numerous couples that have met on the squad have gone on to get married – like Elizabeth and Matt Johnson (both 2010). In fact, the Johnsons met in the back of an ambulance when Matt, a VTRS member, transported Elizabeth to a local hospital. Elizabeth would go on to join VTRS the following year. Elizabeth cites a shared commitment to service, mutual career aspirations, and squad schedule for bringing VTRS couples together.

“Spending almost 40 hours together every week for a shared cause builds a special kind of bond. VTRS members form an immeasurable number of lasting relationships and friendships through their service,” said Elizabeth Johnson.

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