‘It’s Like a Family.’ Current and Former SBVAC Members Reminisce About Volunteering

We’re Highlighting the All-Student Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps for National EMS Week

The 50th anniversary of National EMS Week will be celebrated this year from May 19 to 25. 

As the nation’s first university with a student-run volunteer ambulance corps, we wanted to highlight the impact of the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SBVAC) through the eyes of some of its alumni and its current president.

More than 50 years ago, a small group of Stony Brook University students founded the first-of-its-kind organization, which now operates 24/7, all year long, to provide a vital resource to the community. Larry Starr ’74, a co-founder and former SBVAC president, said the idea for the corps came out of an essential need to respond more quickly to emergency calls on campus and provide transportation for students to medical appointments off campus.

“At the time, the ambulance corps provided basic emergency medical services and transportation,” explained Starr. “Since the university hospital wasn’t built yet, we originally used a donated Volkswagen minibus to transport students to community hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices.”

Initially named the SUNY at Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps, SBVAC has had many different headquarters on campus over the years and is now located in a building across from the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics. It has remained a student-run volunteer organization to this day, and ambulance services are still available to all students without charge. It is also one of a dozen collegiate ambulance corps nationwide that are Advanced Life Support agencies. 

While New York State provides much of the funding for SBVAC today, a lack of funding for resources and training in its early years led Starr to organize a student referendum vote to allocate some student activity fees to the ambulance operation. Ultimately, Starr was successful. 

An SBVAC crew consists of four members: a crew chief, an emergency vehicle operator, an attendant and a probationary member. It has a response time of less than six minutes. In addition to responding to on-campus emergencies, SBVAC provides frequent assistance to outside EMS agencies as needed. It serves 30,000 people, and 8,000 of whom live on campus. It also runs clinics and classes throughout the year.

SBVAC founder Larry Starr ’74 with his wife Cynthia Starr '74.
Starr ’74 with his wife Cynthia Starr ’74.

My heart is filled just knowing how the organization has progressed over the last 54 years. The level of professionalism and quality of service that these students provide is just incredible. SBVAC has gone beyond my dreams of what we could do.” – Larry Starr

This year, through the work of SBVAC and its partnership with Stony Brook University’s  Enterprise Risk Management and Student Affairs, Stony Brook was recognized as a HeartSafe Campus for the first time. SBVAC also received the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation Collegiate EMS Agency of the Year Award in 2013 and the New York State EMS Agency of the Year Award in 2002.  

Current and former members will tell you that SBVAC is like a family and that their time as volunteers changed their lives and futures just as significantly as the organization’s impact on students and community members. In fact, many SBVAC members continue their work in the medical field after graduation.

SBVAC president Jayden Reilly with Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Riccardo McClendon at a CPR training.
SBVAC president Jayden Reilly with Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Riccardo McClendon at a CPR training.

SBVAC volunteers learn not only the skills required to be an EMT but also how to run an organization. “There are two sides to SBVAC,” said the current president, Jayden Reilly, who will graduate in May and plans to attend medical school in the future. “On the business side, we have an executive board that helps arrange outreach events, facilitates recruitment and manages our finances. On the operations side, we have three chiefs, a captain and a lieutenant who ensure that we are answering every alarm, responding quickly and constantly training our members just like any other EMS agency.”

Former SBVAC chief Joshua Moskovitz ’02 said he still runs into former members in his medical profession. “The year I graduated, more than 20 of us went on to various advanced medical fields,” he remembered. “We have many distinct alumni in medicine. My SBVAC experiences were profound and helped in shaping my career, and I imagine they were helpful to my peers as well.” 

Moskovitz is now the medical director for utilization management at the New York City Health and Hospital System. “As young adults, we were so fortunate to be able to run an organization with such incredible value and responsibilities,” said Moskovitz. “The professional growth you get is tremendous, and the potential for students to grow is limitless.”

Moskovitz also recalls having to balance school and being an SBVAC volunteer. “You put a lot of time into both,” he said. “Sometimes, you don’t have time for much else, like a part-time job. I remember speaking with a friend about how having a scholarship would have been helpful when I volunteered to assist with tuition or other college expenses.” 

Fifteen years later, Moskovitz and fellow SBVAC alumni and friends established the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps Alumni Endowed Scholarship to do just that – benefit students who serve the university community as SBVAC members and officers. “We want to relieve some of the burden of their college expenses,” Moskovitz said. “So that the volunteers can focus more on their education and experience within SBVAC.”

If you would like to learn more about how to contribute to the endowed scholarship, reach out to Adam J. Cohen at (631) 358-3850 or Adam.J.Cohen@stonybrook.edu

-Christine McGrath

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