Oct. 24, 2012

Officers honored for saving students' lives


Officer Andrew Phelps, left, and Lt. Matthew Austin were recently awarded the State University of New York, University Police Department Professionalism Award for being instrumental in saving the lives of two students in medical distress. They were honored on campus in September. /PHOTO BY KEITH WALTERS '11



When Lt. Matthew Austin responded to the call for help in Erie Hall, he found a student lying on the floor of his room, red-faced, sweaty and with a rapid pulse. As quickly as he checked, the student stopped breathing. Austin provided several rounds of rescue breaths. Each time he did so, the student breathed on his own for just a short bit, then stopped.

Austin continued to breathe for the student until Geneseo First Response and Geneseo Fire Department medics arrived.

Twelve days earlier, Officer Andrew Phelps also helped save the life of a student, who also had stopped breathing and had no pulse. He had arrived on the scene seconds after the call came in, and immediately laid the student down to begin CPR. He began chest compressions while students in Geneseo First Response performed rescue breathing, until the fire department arrived to take her to the hospital.

These life-or-death calls are thankfully rare on campus. But there are no typical days in police work, say the officers. You must be prepared to deal with the unexpected.
Experience and learning from fellow officers rounds out what's crucial to doing an excellent job, says Phelps. "You pick up the best things from everybody, and rely on your skills."

For their actions, the University Police Chiefs Association honored them with the State University of New York, University Police Department Professionalism Award. On Sept. 19, members of the Division of Student and Campus Life honored Phelps and Austin on campus.

Everyone at Geneseo strives to fulfill the mission of helping students grow into socially responsible citizens, says Robert Bonfiglio, vice president for campus and student life. The college's officers go about their work — and Geneseo's mission — with little fanfare, even when it means intervening in life-threatening situations.

After they helped save the students, the officers continued their shifts.

"Officer Phelps and Lt. Austin are to be commended," Bonfiglio says, "not only for their heroic efforts, but for the unassuming way in which they conducted themselves in these momentous events."

Austin has been at Geneseo for 10 years and is an Army and Army National Guard veteran who served in the Gulf War and in Iraq. Phelps has been on the force four years. Both are trained first responders.

Both credit dispatcher Travis Andrews with the keen insight to ask critical questions and correctly read the situations to be as serious as they were. Phelps' call originally came in as a broken wheelchair. It was Andrews, he says, that alerted him it was likely much more.

The incidents demonstrate the unpredictability officers face with each call, and the expertise of the entire University Police Department. Geneseo First Response as well as students on the Geneseo Fire Department ambulance squad are professional partners in response. GFR is linked to the county 911 system, which makes it unique among student-run emergency squads in the state.

"... When someone is having a very bad day, or comes upon an incident in which they don't know what to do, they call us, and the expectation is that things are going to be OK," says Austin. "I think that we, University Police, are living up to that expectation and surpassing it."

"I appreciate the recognition," he says, "if only so that the community here can better see the role, purpose and goals of Geneseo's police force. The saving of a life is in and of itself the best reward one can receive."

• Last year, Officer Carl Altman, who has been with Geneseo for 17 years, was also honored with the State University of New York, University Police Department Professionalism Award for saving a student's life in 2010.