BEMCo at the Boston Marathon — then and now

Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps member reflects on last year's race, looks forward to this year's

Yedidya Ben-Avie ’15, far right in the first row, with his fellow BEMCo medical volunteers before the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Yedidya Ben-Avie ’15 stood a few blocks from the finish line at the Boston Marathon last year, keeping a watchful eye on the runners. Hundreds of people walked past him, exhausted, elated. Ben-Avie, a trained emergency medical technician and crew chief of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo), scanned the crowd for people in distress, those having trouble breathing or walking. He was a medical volunteer, there to help and keep people safe.

When the first bomb went off, Ben-Avie’s first instinct was to keep people calm.

“It’s probably nothing,” he told his staff of volunteers and the runners in his area. “Everyone just stay calm.”

Twelve seconds later, the second bomb went off.

Someone shouted, “It’s an explosive, you idiot.”

There was a moment of disbelief then Ben-Avie’s training kicked in.

“There were hundreds of people in my area, and I was responsible for them,” Ben-Avie recalls.

He reported to his superior, and began directing people away from the explosives. He and his team waited for more orders but none came. Eventually, Ben-Avie got sick of waiting. He walked towards the blast zone.

The critical patients had been transported to local hospitals but there were plenty of people still in the area, sitting dazed on the pavement. Ben-Avie did what he had been doing all day — he helped them, helped them stand, helped them into wheelchairs, helped them walk away.

“If there is one thing I learned from this experience, it’s to be proactive,” he says. “Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. If you can help, help.”

Ben-Avie has been walking that talk for most of his life. As a young man, he took a class on how to use an EpiPen to stop allergic reactions. His instructors told him, if someone is having a severe allergic reaction, you should find someone who is first aid/CPR certified. So, Ben-Avie became certified in first aid and CPR. At his first aid/CPR class, his instructors told him, if anything actually happens, you should really call an ambulance. So, Ben-Avie became an Emergency Medical Technician on an ambulance.

Before coming to Brandeis, Ben-Avie spent a year in Israel, volunteering with the ambulance corps.  As a freshman, he joined BEMCo, became a first aid and CPR trainer and volunteered for his first Boston Marathon.

That year, 2012, was one of the hottest marathons on record. Ben-Avie and the other BEMCo volunteers helped dozens of runners affected by dehydration and heat stroke get medical attention.  He didn’t think twice about volunteering again in 2013.

When he arrived at registration at 6 a.m., he was relieved the forecast called for a clear, cool day. A good day for running. Because of his experience, Ben-Avie was assigned Zone 1, the first few blocks after the finish line, around Copley Square.

When the runners began to stream in, their joy and pride was infectious. It was a great day.

When Ben-Avie takes his post at this year’s marathon, along with nine other BEMCo volunteers, that’s the part of the day he wants to remember. But he won’t forget what happened afterward — not ever.

“I don’t want to bury those memories,” Ben-Avie says. “Being there, being part of the team of first responders, it’s a big part of me. I’m proud that I could be there and help in any small way.”

Ben-Avie is a psychology and Health: Science, Society and Policy major. This summer, he will intern as a clinical researcher in the Yale pediatric emergency department.

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