The semester was over. Commencement finished. Many students had already gone home.

But some members of Temple University's student EMT squad were still around campus, and on Tuesday night, they would get a lesson they'd never forget.

Four of them had gone to school police headquarters — also their headquarters — to assemble tables for a conference room they use for their training.

That's when Danielle Thor, director of the squad, received a text from a friend: "Have you heard about this train derailment?"

The students rushed into the police dispatch room and listened to the tragedy unfolding.

All they wanted to do was help.

The students - ages 20 to 23 - donned their cherry Temple jackets, hopped aboard their bikes loaded with 40 pounds of emergency equipment - that's how they travel to emergencies on campus - and sped up Broad Street toward Temple's hospital, about a mile and a half away.

Thor sent out a message to other members of the squad and three more came to the hospital by car.

The crew had practiced for a simulated train derailment twice in the last year, said Thor, 22, a fifth year student from Livingston, N.J., who is director of the 60-member squad, most of whom are pre-med majors or are studying some other medical-related field.

But nothing could have completely prepared them for this. Temple was about to receive the largest number of patients from the train accident, more than 50.

"Walking through the doors and just seeing the patients laid out on the tables in the trauma bays and how furiously they were working to save these people. It was absolutely incredible," said Heather Cichowic, 20, a junior biology major from Weatherly.

The student EMTs' job? To help nurses and other hospital staff unload patients from police vehicles, one after the other, and quickly assess the severity of the injuries. They checked their breathing and pulse and asked what had happened to them, then tagged patients who were wounded but walking green, those more seriously injured yellow and the most serious red - typical protocol for a mass casualty incident.

Their assessments had to be quick - just a matter of seconds, Thor said.

There was a woman who had lost quite a bit of skin from her face.

A man who was pale and sweating profusely, who doubled over in a wheelchair and clutched his chest, fearing he was having a heart attack.

A woman who was screaming about severe pain in her belly and hip.

Student EMT Sarah Paranich, who helped slide the woman out of the van on a stretcher, asked her name, which she confesses she doesn't remember now.

"I was trying to calm her down and then get the story of how she had been injured," said Paranich, 22, also a fifth year student from White Haven.

The woman's story was pretty horrifying. Somehow she flipped over in the train car and got caught on something in the ceiling. She was hanging upside down for what felt like a half hour, she told Paranich.

"I can't even imagine how scared she was," Paranich said.

Other patients suffered cracked ribs, cuts, bruises, crushed limbs - and many were in shock.

"One of the patients I talked to the most just kept saying 'my train crashed. My train crashed. My train crashed,'" recalled Thor, who wants to be an emergency medicine doctor - something she's wanted since watching real life trauma shows on TV as a child.

For most of the student EMTs, it was the most severe accident scene at which they had ever assisted.

And the students certainly have had plenty of real experience from their work on campus: car accidents, shooting victims, stabbings, seizures, diabetic emergencies. Their average response time? Two minutes and 14 seconds.

"We really do get to cover the whole EMT textbook on campus," Thor said.

Paranich — whose interest was spurred when she used to babysit for an emergency medicine physician and began shadowing her at work — had helped fire rescue personnel give CPR to a runner who collapsed at the finish line of the Broad Street Run this year.

Temple. which began its student EMT squad in 2007. is one of several large area universities with student squads. Among others are: the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel and Villanova.

The squad operates on a $5,000 annual budget, runs 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. every day as well as daily on weekends during the school year and doesn't bill for its services. It's an all volunteer squad.

The crew is trying to raise money for an emergency vehicle so that it can respond more quickly to emergencies in Temple's immediate neighborhood, Thor said. They've raised $1,400 so far; they need $25,000.

All seven students said the hospital experience confirmed their career choices.

"This is what I got in it for," said Paranich.

For nearly four hours, from about 10:30 p.m. until 2 a.m., the student crew — including Dylan Badawy, 22, a senior from Manayunk; Jordan Gorski, 23, a sixth year student from Hazleton; Kevin Pisciella, 20, a junior from Northampton, Bucks County; and AnneMarie Tomosky, 21, a senior from Drexel Hill; worked on sheer adrenaline.

Most of them then hopped on their bikes again and rode back toward campus, with a police escort.

Their only complaint? That Temple doesn't have a WaWa on campus because they were very hungry and wanted WaWa.

To learn more about the crew, see their website at