Bundled up from head to toe and sporting a blue SUNY Potsdam wilderness education jacket, alumnus Alex Raynor ’11 swings two ice axes through the air while ascending a wall of ice at Azure Mountain, just 48 miles from Potsdam. The spikes from his ice axes and his crampons sink into the ice with ease as he moves up the vertical wall like Spiderman.
He has been here many times before, as an undergraduate student working on his wilderness education minor. But this time, he made the five-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Warwick, N.Y., to climb at Azure Mountain with his former instructors and friends from the wilderness education program.
“After I graduated, I was still coming back as an adjunct instructor, but now I just come back for fun,” Raynor said. “I’m still friends with everybody from the program, so I still love coming up and climbing with everybody and getting outside.”
Since graduating from SUNY Potsdam with a degree in environmental studies and wilderness education, Raynor went on to get his Emergency Medical Technician certification from New York state. He is now working as an EMT for the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services (FDNY EMS) in the Bronx—his childhood dream. His father, who works as a firefighter for the FDNY, helped instill in him a passion for the outdoors and a desire to work in the field of emergency services.
Now realizing his dream, he speeds around the city helping people in need—handling anywhere from six to 10 emergency calls per day. “It’s something new every day. It’s a good opportunity to work with people and make a difference. Working for the FDNY EMS gives me the opportunity to save lives and help people in their time of need. I am very grateful for that,” he said.
Raynor was first introduced to medical training by SUNY Potsdam instructor Adam Wheeler, who leads the wilderness first responder course on campus. “It’s a semester long first aid course, focused on treating people in the backcountry,” Raynor explained.
Unlike his work in New York City where he can quickly respond to emergency calls, the wilderness first responder course presented him with the challenge of helping patients in a remote wilderness setting—a harrowing location to face medical emergencies. He learned how to stabilize patients, create makeshift stretchers and move them safely from the wilderness back to civilization with limited resources.
In addition to his wilderness first responder class at SUNY Potsdam, Raynor also took rock climbing and ice climbing classes and went on backpacking trips, including an expedition to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. As an environmental studies major, he also served as a summit guide for one summer, living on top of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain and assisting hikers. “It’s a hidden gem, a great program,” Raynor said. “It just builds solid leadership skills and really practical knowledge to use in many different paths.”