UVAC celebrates 50th anniversary of service

The University Volunteer Ambulance Corps — an all-volunteer organization of University of Maine students, staff and community members who provide emergency medical services to the campus and surrounding communities — is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. 

UVAC, a division of Auxiliary Services, will commemorate the milestone during its annual member banquet on April 22, which will feature keynote speaker Dr. David Saquet, doctor of emergency medicine at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

The organization responds to about 500 calls and provides nearly 30,000 hours of service each year. This includes working at athletic and other campus events, and providing mutual aid to the communities of Orono, Veazie, Old Town, Milford and Bradley. 

Other services from UVAC include offering first aid, CPR and Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) training; overseeing the university’s HeartSafe Community program; and participating in community outreach and education.

“UVAC has never wavered from its beginnings 50 years ago as a student-operated volunteer ambulance service,” said Auxiliary Enterprises Executive Director Richard Young. “Today, UVAC continues to provide a unique volunteer leadership experience for all students, regardless of their academic pursuits. Those with aspirations can apply for the opportunity to oversee and operate a 24-7 state-licensed ambulance service for the campus, as well as serve as backup ambulance for the local communities.”

Formed in 1972, UVAC’s inclusive nature and focus on patient care garnered several volunteers with a passion for emergency medicine. At that time, students trained as attendants through the American Red Cross to provide medical care, and UMaine Police Department owned and operated the ambulance. 

Organization membership and resources have grown significantly over the years, with it now having 70 volunteers, two ambulances equipped up to paramedic level, one fly car equipped for incident command and a first response vehicle. 

A patient is loaded into an ambulance during a simulation
UVAC members participate in an emergency simulation.

Luke McCarthy, EMT and UVAC student chief, said the organization is now an integrated part of multiple towns’ medical services teams. UVAC leaders also advocate and offer guidance when it comes to safety for campus events. 

“We’ve made it a professional service,” McCarthy said. “We’re there when they need us. We’re an asset they can use.”

UVAC has a distinguished legacy of service, which includes the 2013 Steve Gould Award, presented to a person or group that has “demonstrated superior qualities of unselfishness and compassion in the course of service to the University of Maine and its ideals.”

Rick Petrie, alumnus and chief operations officer for North East Mobile Health, said his decision to pursue a career in medical services was influenced by his participation in UVAC from 1980–83.

“The people I met there influenced me and set my foundation in emergency medical services,” he said. “There are also some tremendously amazing people who went on to be doctors, nurses and leaders in Maine and the country who were part of UVAC.

“I can’t stress enough how important UVAC has been in my career and in the careers of others I know. We have all used our time at the university to build those strengths. It is a great operation.”

UMaine Police Department Lt. Robert Norman said UVAC provides crucial services to the campus and synergizes well with its community.

“COVID taught us very quickly that we can’t do it alone,” he said. “I absolutely knew [all those years ago] that the need and desire is there. When we match the need to the desire, it’s the best of both worlds. 

“Imagine how much impact it has — someone took the time to learn first aid and donate their time, so that they can do it when they’re called on. Our graduates will go on to have impacts we’ll never know.” 

UVAC Assistant Chief of Relations Daisy Drinkert, an EMT and UMaine biochemistry major, says her leadership skills improved during her time with the organization, and she has been able to apply what she has learned to other roles.

“It’s great to be a resource for other EMS units in the state,” she says.

Joining UVAC requires no licenses or certifications except to provide highly skilled medical care. For more information or to apply, visit umaine.edu/uvac or email um.uvacrelations@maine.edu.

Contact: Deb Bell, debra.bell@maine.edu