First response for student safety

The Journal spends a Friday night shift with Queen’s First Aid volunteers and learns about what it takes to be a CPR expert

Queen’s First Aid volunteers Elizabeth Purssell, ArtSci ’10, and Justin Everett, Sci ’08, relax after responding to a call on a Friday night shift.
Queen’s First Aid volunteers Elizabeth Purssell, ArtSci ’10, and Justin Everett, Sci ’08, relax after responding to a call on a Friday night shift.

A day in the life: PART 1 OF 3

Today: Queen’s First Aid • Feb. 12: Psychology lab • Feb. 15: Vice-Principal (Advancement) David Mitchell

On Friday evening, many students’ days are finished and they’re preparing for a night out with friends or in with the books. Last Friday, Elizabeth Purssell, ArtSci ’10, and Justin Everett, Sci ’08, donned red jackets and responder packs.

They’re on-call for the 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Queen’s First Aid (QFA) shift.

Queen’s First Aid is comprised of student volunteers trained in first aid who work on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the school term, except holidays and exam periods. They’re contacted through the campus Emergency Response Centre (ERC) and can work in an emergency situation when an ambulance isn’t necessary or to complement ambulance services. For serious calls, an ambulance will also respond.

Every QFA member is expected to work six hours per week, which can include on-call shifts or events and intramurals.

As a volunteer service, QFA doesn’t charge event organizers for its presence but request a meal if the event goes longer than four hours, said QFA Director Kevin McGill.

When QFA volunteers work a day shift, they go about their day as usual, attending classes and meetings, but ready to respond to a call whenever one comes in. Everywhere they go, they carry their responder pack and radio, which the ERC uses to contact them.

On-call volunteers are, however, required to stay within the QFA response area—on campus and north to Earl Street, west to Collingwood Street, east to Barrie Street and south to King Street.

“We don’t respond to private residences,” McGill said.

QFA also responds to calls on West Campus, but relies on Campus Security to drive them over. Volunteers respond to all other calls on foot.

For volunteers working overnight shifts, QFA has a room with two beds in the upstairs of the JDUC.

Purssell and Everett spent the night hanging out in the QFA office—located in the AMS office space in the JDUC.

Purssell pulled a laptop out of her bag to begin work on a chemistry lab, while McGill told me more about QFA’s history.

The organization started in 1986, offering first aid assistance and teaching Queen’s and the Kingston community about first aid.

“Our mission is basically being out there to promote ourselves and make it as safe as possible,” McGill said.

QFA has 43 volunteers, including a six-member executive with a director and co-ordinators overseeing operations, training, duties, communications and community services portfolios.

Executive hiring is currently underway and is carried out by a committee of current executive members and other QFA volunteers. Next month, the new executive will recruit volunteers for next year’s unit.

Another round of recruitment also happens at the beginning of the school year.

The recruitment process begins with interested students submitting applications. From there, some applicants are invited to interviews. All applicants who make it through the interview stage go through a day of training to refresh their first aid skills before being called to the practical exam.

Everett said the recruitment process—which he went through in the spring of his first year—was his most memorable experience with QFA because of the intense practical exam all applicants must complete before being hired. The exam is designed to test the applicants’ first aid skills and how they react in stressful situations.

Once the applicants go home after the practical test, the recruitment committee spends hours discussing the candidates to make their hiring decisions.

“It’s a great experience to see everyone so willing and eager to join the organization,” McGill said.

As McGill was talking, QFA member Dave Summers, ArtSci ’08, walked into the office.

He pulled a responder pack, the pack of supplies QFA members carry with them whenever on call, off the shelf and began to unpack it.

Most of the responder packs are the same, except for one, which also carries a defibrillator. Last September, QFA purchased a new defibrillator with updated technology, with the Cold Beverage Exclusivity grant from Residence and Food Services.

The defibrillator has pads for adults and children. The paediatric pads are important, Summers said, for some events QFA covers involving children, such as the Winter Adapted Games.

“It’s the only [defibrillator] on campus, except in the medical buildings,” he said.

Standard equipment in the responder packs includes a pulse oximeter, used to measure the oxygen level of a patient’s blood, splints, ice packs, a thermometer, blood pressure cuff, stethoscope and bandages.

The packs also contain airway adjuncts to use when an unconscious patient’s airway is threatened. The devices include tubes to insert down someone’s throat or nasal passages to create a clear airway.

Another device used to help unconscious patients is the bag valve mask, which connects to an oxygen tank.

“When doing compressions [during CPR], instead of breathing into the person, you squeeze the oxygen tank to give them 100 per cent oxygen,” Summers said.

If a patient is unconscious and the responders think the oxygen tank is necessary, Campus Security carries it in their van to respond to the call.

Next, Summers pulled out a V-Vac, which he explained is used for sucking up vomit from an unconscious patient’s mouth. Most of the people QFA treats, however, aren’t unconscious and so they don’t use V-Vacs often.

QFA responder packs also include burn kits.

“We respond to a lot of burns, especially in residence,” Summers said, adding that they also respond to calls at campus food services for burns.

McGill said their most common calls are for musculoskeletal injuries, such as sprains or joint injuries, intoxication and open wounds.

Summers added that QFA also has a biohazards bags and a sharps bin for disposing medical needles or other sharp instruments.

Minutes after Summers finished explaining the responder pack contents, the first—and only—call of the night came in over the radio at 6:45 p.m.

Purssell and Everett both grabbed a responder pack and the team headed out.

Because QFA operates on a strict confidentiality policy, details of their calls can’t be reported.

Forty-five minutes later, Purssell and Everett headed back to the office. As we walked, I asked what would happen if they had received another call in the midst of responding to that one.

Purssell said the volunteers would have to make a decision based on the type of call.If they were responding to a minor injury and got a call for another minor injury, the responders could split up. If the call was serious, they might tell the ERC to just call an ambulance.

Back in the office, as Everett filled out a patient care form to record the details of the call and the treatment given, Purssell refilled materials in her responder pack.

After they finished packing up the bag and reviewing the patient care document, the QFA volunteers relaxed for a bit and watch some T.V.  

By 8:30 p.m., however, stomachs were growling—or at least mine was—and it was time for a dinner break. Purssell and Everett decided to go upstairs to the QP.

They can’t actually enter the pub because they’re on the job. It would look irresponsible, Everett said, for a uniformed volunteer—both he and Purssell are wearing QFA gear—to be in an alcohol-serving establishment.

A server came to the door to take their order and we waited outside until the food arrived.

Back in the QFA office, we watched some more T.V. Purssell and Everett remained alert for any other calls from the radio, but received none. Everett said it’s rare to get more than three calls per shift, and that on Friday evenings, calls are more frequent during the overnight shift.

Although Purssell is considering medical school as an option after she finishes her life sciences undergraduate degree, she said QFA isn’t just for future doctors.

She and others in the office begin rattling off the programs of different QFA members: from politics to psychology to engineering.

In order to apply to QFA, applicants must hold current Standard First Aid and CPR Level C certification. Interested students who don’t have previous first aid certification could take a course from QFA during one of their training sessions.

Later, all new recruits go through further training, including St. John Ambulance’s Advanced Medical First Responder (AMFR) Level 1 training, a 40-hour weekend course.

The course covers standard first aid techniques QFA members regularly use, as well as more technical skills such as advanced head, spine and pelvic injury management, how to use a defibrillator and advanced drug and alcohol training.

Students are tested on these new techniques through simulations at the end of the course. The course also requires QFA members to pass certain situations which test their ability to use the newly learned techniques and skills.

Although AMFR training only has to be re-certified every three years, QFA volunteers retake part of the course every year, Everett said.

“We do our main certification every year, and we do some form of training every month.” Those training sessions can include teaching others first-aid skills. Last month, QFA held its annual CPR-a-thon to teach interested students and community members how to perform CPR.

Shortly after we finished our discussion, 11 p.m. rolls around. The night volunteers arrived, radios switched hands and my own QFA shift came to an end.

To call QFA for assistance, call the Emergency Response Centre at (613) 533-6111. Volunteers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the class term.

Queen’s First Aid at a glance

• During Frosh Week 2007, QFA responded to 106 calls.

• From Frosh Week until fall exams, responders answered 156 calls.

• In 2007, QFA volunteers collectively logged 14,192.5 hours on-duty and during training.

• Starting next year, QFA will receive $3.50 from every student. In last month’s referendum, QFA asked the student body to increase their mandatory student fee from $2.50 to $3.50. It passed with 68.39 per cent of the vote.

• This year, with the mandatory and opt-outable fees, QFA received just over $30,000 from students.

• The funds go to St. John Ambulance for training material and certifications and pay for radios and other supplies, the office phone, promotional material, kit repair and travel costs.

• QFA also pays an annual fee to belong to The Association of Campus Emergency Response Teams.

Source: Kevin McGill, Queen’s First Aid director

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