First on the scene

First on the scene

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Jeffrey Dever earns Rowan’s first Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management degree

Jeffrey Dever is used to being among the first on the scene to help someone in need.

So it makes perfect sense that Dever, who works 40 hours a week as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) throughout South Jersey, is the first student to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management at Rowan University.

He’s proud to be the program’s initial graduate, but Dever is more interested in how he can use his degree to be of service to others.

After all, public service is his birthright.

“My dad is a police officer. My grandfather was a police officer and a volunteer firefighter. My grandmother was a nurse. My mom is a teacher. So I did grow up with some kind of public service in mind,” says Dever, 22, who accepted his degree--and another bachelor of arts degree in history--during the combined Commencement ceremony for the College of Humanities & Social Sciences and the School of Earth & Environment on Tuesday, May 9.

At age 16, Dever joined the firefighter cadet program with the Moorestown Fire Department. He completed fire school during his senior year at Moorestown High School and became a volunteer firefighter.

Spirit of camaraderie

First and foremost, Dever loved the camaraderie of the fire company—of serving his community alongside like-minded volunteers who gave of themselves to assist others in a time of need.

“My dad would talk about the guys—about the camaraderie in the police department. That’s what attracted me to public service,” he says.

Dever enrolled at Rowan with the goal of becoming a history teacher. But, early in the program, he realized teaching wasn’t for him. In January of 2016, he grabbed a flier he saw about the new Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management Program, marched into Sociology Professor DeMond Miller’s office, and told him the major was his calling.

“I told Dr. Miller, ‘This is the right major for me,’” Dever says. “I was looking for more from my Rowan experience. I have all the respect in the world for teachers, but I knew it wasn’t for me.”

Rowan’s Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management Program, which now enrolls 35 undergraduates, is an interdisciplinary degree program that focuses specifically on educating students in areas such as emergency response and coordination skills, incident command, emergency communication, complex problem solving, critical thinking, and strategic operations.

“The Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management major was developed in response to a need at the local, state and national level,” says Miller, the program’s director. “It is designed so that students have the skills and academic background, as well as the theory and practice in the area of emergency management.

“Jeff embodies the sacrifice and dedication to serving the community, which is the essence of emergency management,” Miller continues. “He’s the epitome of the type of student who excels in the program.”

The core of emergency management, says Dever, “is knowing what your resources are and knowing who can help you. It’s about putting those connections and resources into a concise plan. I have a lot of friends in this field.”

Speaking the language

More importantly, Dever speaks the language of first responders, according to Len Clark, who retired as deputy emergency management coordinator for Gloucester County and is an adjunct professor in the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Program.

“Jeff can speak a language of multiples,” says Clark, who taught Dever in a number of classes. “Multiple agencies and multiple disciplines have their own language and none of the languages are common. But whether he’s talking to a police officer, EMT or firefighter, he understands what they’re saying. He has that well-rounded background that makes emergency management professionals good at their craft.”

On a whim the summer after his freshman year, Dever joined Rowan Emergency Medical Services, took an EMT class and became certified. While he had considered a career in law enforcement, he found that EMT work suited his personality. In the spring 2015 semester, he began answering calls on Rowan’s all-volunteer student squad and, soon after, he was hired as an EMT in Mount Ephraim, working 12-hour shifts.

He’s now an EMT in Mount Ephraim (which also covers Oaklyn and Audubon), Pennsauken, and Gloucester County. Dever also worked for two years as an EMT in Delran.

“I go to work and I get to go to people on their worst days and bring some level of comfort to them and make their day better,” says Dever, who works 6 a.m.-6 p.m. and may answer upwards of 10 calls daily on some squads.

“With EMS, you have to build confidence early with a patient. You have to get their intimate secrets within 15 minutes. I talk to dozens of people a day.”

Rowan EMS

Dever is especially proud of the work of Rowan EMS, which is why he continues to volunteer on campus up to 10 hours each month. He also teaches CPR courses for the squad and supervised, trained and evaluated probationary EMTs.

Founded nearly 40 years ago, the squad, which boasts 80 members, is one of the longest serving collegiate EMS squads in New Jersey. Rowan EMS handles between 800-900 calls annually. The squad’s response time is less than five minutes, a remarkable showing, according to Dever.

“Rowan EMS has professionalism, pride and a level of skill that I haven’t seen in some paid organizations,” says Dever. “We are delivering a paid level of service while maintaining volunteers.”

Cool-headed and caring, Dever traces his dedication to EMS to a day etched in his memory: August 17, 2014.

Dever was nearing completion of his EMT certification when a good friend, Andrew Stowell, an EMT and a fellow volunteer with the Moorestown Fire Department, collapsed and died while exercising. Stowell, who was 26 and was a mentor to Dever, had a massive heart attack caused by an undiagnosed heart defect.

“He helped me through the EMT course,” Dever says of Stowell, who was an emergency department nurse. “He was very caring, extremely smart and very passionate about his work and, also, about helping the first responders.

“We would talk almost every day. He helped me deal with my first fatal accident.”

‘A culture of living up to your friends’ memories’

After Stowell’s passing, Dever found himself even more inspired to excel as an EMT. That’s the nature of being in public service, he says.

“Moving forward from that, I would study for my EMT class a lot harder,” says Dever. “That’s part of the reason I put so much passion into EMS. I think in the fire service, EMS and police there’s a culture of living up to your friends’ memories.”

He’s fortunate, he says, to have many fellow first responders to help him work through the difficult calls he’s handled, the tragedies he’s seen.

“I have a huge support network. With emergency services, it’s a danger when people can’t talk to others,” says Dever, who interns eight hours weekly with Rowan’s Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Public Safety.

There, Dever began the work of transferring the University’s emergency plans into a new format that may soon be required by the state.

“That gave him a taste of what we do every day,” says Pete Amico, Rowan’s director of emergency management. “He has a solid background and he’s a good, independent thinker. He’s going to do well in the field.”

Dever will continue working as an EMT and is considering paramedic school with perhaps a future as a flight paramedic or firefighter/paramedic. Whatever he ultimately pursues, the skills he gained through his Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management degree will serve him well so that he can, in turn, assist others, he says.

The dual major with history complements his skill set, he adds.

“What we do in emergency management is learn from our history. We’re consistently looking at what happened before, at how things were handled,” says Dever.

“I’m proud that I was able to help people here at Rowan,” he adds. “I was able to build a life for myself here, help people and be successful in majors I’ve come to love.”