Aetna’s live-in pro­gram for UD stu­dents helps cut re­sponse times

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­

Liam Stab­ner had just re­turned home to his Skid Row apart­ment af­ter tak­ing an exam last Fri­day morn­ing when the call came in for a house fire on Wil­bur Street.

Stab­ner ran across the street to the fire­house, geared up and in min­utes was on a fire en­gine head­ing to­ward the blaze.

“To go from tak­ing an exam to run­ning into a burn­ing build­ing, it’s a big tran­si­tion,” the Univer­sity of Delaware sopho­more said.

That said, it’s a com­mon oc­cur­rence for Stab­ner and the other mem­bers of Aetna Hose Hook and Lad­der Com­pany’s new live-in pro­gram.

Four fire­fight­ers — two UD stu­dents and two re­cent grad­u­ates — are part of the pro­gram, which launched in July.

The live-in mem­bers stay rent-free in an apart­ment pro­vided by Aetna on

Academy Street’s Skid Row, lo­cated across the street from the fire­house. In ex­change, they trade off night shifts, en­sur­ing that Aetna has fire­fight­ers on duty to re­spond to calls be­tween 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. While not ob­li­gated to, they of­ten re­spond to calls dur­ing the day as well, as Stab­ner did last Fri­day.

“Hav­ing mem­bers in your sta­tion gets the truck on the street,” Chief Drew Bow­er­son said. “Staffed en­gines put fires out.”

While Aetna is pri­mar­ily a vol­un­teer com­pany, it does have two paid fire­fight­ers on duty each night. They, along with the two live-in mem­bers on duty, make up a full en­gine crew of four and can leave im­me­di­ately in­stead of wait­ing for more fire­fight­ers to wake up and drive into the sta­tion from home, thus re­duc­ing re­sponse times.

Bow­er­son noted that a fire dou­bles in size ev­ery 45 to 60 sec­onds.

“By hav­ing a crew in quar­ters, we can pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing,” he said.

Aetna spokesman John H. Far­rell IV added that hav­ing a crew on duty re­duces the num­ber of times other mem­bers have to wake up to leave home and re­spond to calls, es­pe­cially mi­nor in­ci­dents.

“The overnight staffed en­gine crew from the livein pro­gram can han­dle the au­to­matic fire alarms, the car fires, the calls for wires down and the trash fires,” Far­rall said. “A mem­ber is more likely to get up and re­spond to a struc­ture fire, bring­ing ad­di­tional ap­pa­ra­tus to back up the staffed en­gine.”

Aetna’s calls for ser­vice con­tinue to in­crease, top­ping 11,000 last year. At the same time, it’s harder to re­cruit vol­un­teers as peo­ple lead in­creas­ingly busy lives.

“So we dipped into our lo­cal re­source — the Univer­sity of Delaware,” Bow­er­son said.

While the live-in pro­gram is new, UD stu­dents be­ing in­volved at Aetna is not. Ap­prox­i­mately 10 to 12 stu­dents are ac­tive vol­un­teers each year. Col­lege stu­dents are en­er­getic and of­ten have more time than an older vol­un­teer with a full-time job and a fam­ily.

An­drew Hap­per, a UD grad­u­ate who is part of the live-in pro­gram and also serves as an en­gine cap­tain, said it’s com­mon to see stu­dents hang­ing around the sta­tion do­ing home­work.

“When a call comes in, that’s their break from study­ing,” Hap­per said.

The live-in pro­gram so­lid­i­fies that com­mit­ment, be­cause the par­tic­i­pants agree to re­spond to all calls that hap­pen dur­ing their night shifts.

Bow­er­son said Aetna spent the last year work­ing out the de­tails of the pro­gram, which is pop­u­lar in other ar­eas, es­pe­cially Prince Ge­orge’s County, Md. Though the fire depart­ment in­curs an ex­pense to pay rent and util­i­ties for the apart­ment, it’s cheaper than pay­ing full-time fire­fight­ers, he said, adding he hopes to even­tu­ally ex­pand the pro­gram to eight mem­bers.

Hap­per, who joined Aetna six years ago, said he en­joys liv­ing across the street from the fire­house.

“I like help­ing the best I can,” he said. “By liv­ing here, I’m able to pro­vide the best ser­vice I can.”

He also likes the ca­ma­raderie that comes from liv­ing and work­ing with the same fire­fight­ers.

“We build trust so that when you go out on a call, you know they have your back,” Hap­per said.

Do­minic San­tos, another live-in mem­ber, con­curred.

“What­ever helps us be bet­ter for the com­mu­nity is bet­ter for us,” said San­tos, who is in his third year vol­un­teer­ing with Aetna. “We’re to­gether all the time here. You get to build a bet­ter bond.”

He said a typ­i­cal shift varies dras­ti­cally.

“It all de­pends,” he said. “I’ve had nights where we slept all night, and I’ve had nights where we ran all night.”

Stab­ner, who started vol­un­teer­ing with the Lewes Fire Depart­ment at age 14 and joined Aetna last year when he was a fresh­man, ac­knowl­edged his col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent than that of many of his friends.

“It’s def­i­nitely a lifestyle you have to com­mit to,” he said. “Some­times it can get a lit­tle rough if I have a 9 a.m. class. But, you can al­ways come back and take a nap.”

The trick is find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween school work, re­spond­ing to calls and mak­ing time to hang out with friends.

“It’s def­i­nitely pos­si­ble,” he said.

While Stab­ner, San­tos and Hap­per all said their pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion is to serve their com­mu­nity, hav­ing a free place to live is cer­tainly a ben­e­fit as well. Stab­ner es­ti­mated he’s sav­ing $8,000 this year by not liv­ing in the dorms or an off-cam­pus apart­ment. The lo­ca­tion isn’t bad, ei­ther.

“It’s about as close to cam­pus as you can get,” he noted.

Aetna is tak­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for next year’s live-in pro­gram from now un­til Oct. 31. Those in­ter­ested should con­tact Brian Cor­bett at bcor­bett@aet­


Aetna Chief Drew Bow­er­son (left) poses with three of the fire depart­ment’s live-in fire­fight­ers, An­drew Hap­per, Liam Stab­ner and Do­minic San­tos.


Liam Stab­ner, a mem­ber of Aetna’s live-in pro­gram, helps re­move de­bris from a Wil­bur Street home dam­aged by fire last week.

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