Columbia University Emergency Medical Service (CUEMS) is a student-operated, New York State-certified, basic-life support volunteer ambulance corps.
We provide prehospital emergency medical care, free of charge, to Columbia University's Morningside Heights Campus, and the surrounding area, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Originally known as the Columbia Area Volunteer Ambulance, we have been serving the Columbia Community since 1968. The corps currently has approximately 40 active members and responds to over 1,300 calls per year. CUEMS is a division of the Columbia University Department of Public Safety and Columbia Health. We greatly appreciate their unending support.
In a 1962 laboratory mishap, a staff member at the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) was severely injured. His colleagues rushed to his aid and immediately took him to the hospital. It was with this sentiment – of aiding others in distress – that Columbia University EMS took root.
For many years to follow, Columbia University EMS was little more than a dedicated volunteer crew of medically untrained Engineering faculty and staff, assisting other colleagues in medical need around campus, largely unknown by the community at large.
It was during the summer of 1972 that Columbia University EMS gained University-wide recognition, following an incident in which a suspended student shot the dean of Columbia College – Dean Henry Coleman – six times. Columbia's volunteer emergency medical team quickly responded to Dean Coleman's aid, and commandeered a borrowed station wagon to transport him to the hospital. Due to the prompt aid, Dean Coleman recovered fully from the incident.
Upon gaining renown for their heroic acts, Columbia University EMS received their first official ambulance — a Ford "Super Van," retrofitted by SEAS staff in 1974. This van, officially termed "01", was custom rigged with emergency equipment and replaced the hodgepodge of borrowed vehicles the corps had been using. With the aid of 01, the volunteer crew responded to approximately 100 calls per year.
By the late 1970s, Emergency Medicine had become its own medical specialty. This in large part was due to the Freedom House Ambulance Service whom we have to thank for their pioneering of such a critical medical field. It was with this revolution of the medical field that Columbia University EMS would emerge as a full-fledged organization.
Columbia Area Volunteer Ambulance is Formed
In 1980, Columbia students Erik Gaull '85 and Bruce Topper '82 approached the Department of Public Safety with the interest of transforming this group of untrained volunteers into an organized ambulance corps. With the help of the Department of Public Safety, Columbia Area Volunteer Ambulance (CAVA) was founded. It soon became a university-wide, recognized EMS corps, composed of student volunteers who were trained as first responders. CAVA served as a 24/7 service, and quickly gained the reputation of rapid response times and professional level of care, so much so that "being CAVA'd" became a common phrase in the Columbia vernacular, indicating that someone had received medical aid from these first responders. Having earned such a presence in the Columbia consciousness, in 1984, CAVA gained enough money from the Columbia community to purchase their second ambulance.
With two vehicles in service, CAVA rapidly became an integral part of the Department of Public Safety and the University at large. CAVA’s medical support not only aids in the safety and health of the students but also saves the University tens of thousands of dollars through its free medical care. Throughout the years, CAVA made a lasting impression on Columbia's campus. In 1997, the corps received a stork emblem from the city, when a crew successfully delivered a baby. Six years later, during the tragic events of 9/11, the corps was put on alert. While hoards of ambulances scrambled to serve patients near the twin towers, CAVA fielded all emergency calls in Morningside Heights.
Columbia University EMS Today
In 2002, CAVA was rebranded to Columbia University Emergency Medical Service (CUEMS). In 2003, CUEMS celebrated 40 successful years of emergency care with the purchase of a new ambulance – a Horton 364, called "04” or “Odysseus.” Odysseus witnessed CUEMS’s switch from paper to electronic documentation in 2009, and was joined by a new ambulance in 2010 – "05" or “Achilles,” which replaced the aging 17-year-old “03.” After over a decade of serving the Columbia community and greater Morningside Heights neighborhood, Odysseus retired graciously in April of 2015, and was replaced by “06” or “Penelope.”
Today, Columbia University Emergency Medical Service – aided by Achilles and Penelope, our beloved two ambulances – has more than 40 active members and responds to over 1,300 calls a year. Active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, CUEMS has become an essential part of the University. To this day, CUEMS, the Department of Public Safety, Health Services at Columbia, and the Trustees of Columbia University have a relationship of collaboration, cooperation, and trust.