Since graduating GHS in '98, Jason Friesen, who originally arrived in Greenwich with his family in time for 7th grade at CMS, has lived all over the world.
A college English major who worked at Just Books in Old Greenwich for a time, Friesen spent a college semester in Germany and later taught English in Costa Rica. Reflecting on what did not feel like a straight path at the time, his disparate experiences have all come together to serve as the inspiration for a non-profit called Trek Medics International.
While employed by Habitat for Humanity, Friesen was sent to Trinidad for a focus group. It was August, 2005. While flying over the Gulf of Mexico, "The pilot announced, 'And to your left is Hurricane Katrina,'" said Friesen, recalling how he wished he could get on the ground to help. It was was at that point he realized he wasn't cut out for a desk job.
Later, in San Diego, Friesen got a job on an ambulance and his proctor, Paul Maxwell, asked whether he spoke Spanish. Through that connection, Friesen was soon running calls in Tijuana. He also helped on the ground in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
"I'm in Haiti with a nurse transporting an 11-month old baby in respiratory failure. The baby was intubated quickly, but it took four hours to transport her six miles," he recalled. "That's when I had the epiphany that donated ambulances are not the solution when there are no maps, house numbers, fuel, spare parts or even roads. I realized what they most needed help with was EMS systems."
"People ask, 'Jason, I'm going to Haiti. Should I take malaria pills?' and I usually answer, 'Just wear your seat belt.'"
Years after his mother's advice Friesen is a seasoned paramedic. He is fluent in Spanish and has founded an organization called Trek Medics. The organization's slogan is "9-1-1 Where there is none."
Trek Medics takes a four-pronged approach to help locations in low income countries like Haiti or Tijuana provide emergency service. Friesen's non-profit trains local bystanders to be first responders, sets up the dispatching system and helps with management and governance.
Right now, Friesen and his Trek Medics colleagues – many are classmates from GHS '98 – are eager to finalize their "Beacon" system which is their versatile software that weaves together local volunteers, their flip-phone texting, transportation like dirt bikes and local hospitals. Friesen wants to put the software through the wringer with pilot tests and revisions.
"We don't want to release it until it's perfect," Friesen said. "Right now we need funds to get to the finish line. Basically, with our campaign, we're crowd sourcing emergency response."
A video explaining Beacon features compelling footage of emergencies in developing countries and details the Trek Medics SMS-based emergency dispatching system. Trek Medics indiegogo campaign has a goal of $75,000 and as of the weekend they have raised almost $9,000. The campaign ends Oct. 6, 2013.