Berkeley Fire Department develops tracking system for student alcohol incidents

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After a night earlier this semester when Berkeley’s emergency response system was stretched beyond its limit, the city’s fire department began developing a new system to track the number of emergency calls generated by UC Berkeley students.

During a seven-hour period beginning about 11 p.m. on Aug. 25, Berkeley Fire Department scrambled to handle an unusually high call volume, which included 16 campus-related emergencies. BFD officials believe 12 of the incidents may have been alcohol-related.

Earlier this month, ABC7 aired a special investigative report framing the events of that night as indicative of a serious drinking problem on campus.

The fire department is in the process of gathering information to detect patterns in campus-related emergency calls to better predict nights that may see similarly high call volumes, according to acting Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb.

Within the seven-hour period, the city was forced to use its three ambulances and all of its available fire engines and ladder trucks, Webb said. The city also had to call for mutual aid, including seven ambulances from Oakland, to handle the emergencies.

While ambulance personnel took some intoxicated patients to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, the local hospital, others had to be taken to hospitals outside the city.

“It was the first weekend that such a thing happened,” said Carolyn Kemp, the hospital’s spokesperson. “It puts a strain on the system.”

About a month ago, BFD began asking ambulance personnel to note whether they believe a call may have been campus-related in their emergency-patient-care reports.

Webb said developing this system has been a daunting task because the current tracking system is not designed to differentiate various types of calls. Additionally, privacy policies have limited BFD’s ability to determine whether patients are students.

UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada said that the increase in calls Aug. 25 was an uncommon occurrence and that the numbers of alcohol-related transports this year and last year are similar.

In a weekend, UCPD generally responds to three alcohol-related incidents, Tejada said. Between Aug. 1 and Nov. 11, 59 students were transported to hospitals for alcohol-related reasons.

Over the past few years, the number of student-related alcohol incidents has been on a roughly upward trend. So far this year, the number of alcohol-related incidents is triple what it was at this point in 2005, according to UCPD data.

Tejada said that in spite of the high number of calls this year, only two students were cited for alcohol-related offenses between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 because there are limits to how police may intervene on private property. He correlates the increase in calls with an increase in campus support for alcohol-safety education.

This fall, [email protected] peer educators distributed door hangers and fans encouraging students to call 911 in the event of possible alcohol poisoning, said the program’s coordinator Karen Hughes in an email.

Additionally, as part of the campus’s alcohol education program, all incoming students are required to take an online course about alcohol’s effects and how to better make safe decisions. So far this semester, more than 5,000 new students have completed the course, according to Hughes.

BFD firefighter Kristin Tucker developed an alcohol-safety training for students called Every Bear Goes Home.

“The department has seen that (the) program has a positive message,” Webb said, adding that it is a way for firefighters to proactively mitigate student alcohol consumption at parties.

In conjunction with the Interfraternity Council, a student-run organization called Greeks Advocating the Mature Management of Alcohol, or GAMMA, relies on a group of fraternity and sorority members to keep their peers accountable for alcohol safety.

IFC President Andrey Kisel, citing the number of recent alcohol-related transports, stressed the importance of GAMMA in randomly dropping in on Greek houses each weekend to ensure they are abiding by the All-Greek Social Code.

Still, Kisel expressed concern that because many members of the Greek community know one another, GAMMA members may be reluctant to cite one another’s chapters for rule violations.

“They don’t want some members to get mad at each other,” Kisel said. “People are a little afraid of backlash from their peers, and other people have to pay the price.”

Contact Michelaina Johnson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MichelainaJohns.