The Erindale College Special Response Team may be hidden away in a cramped office on the second floor of the Student Centre, but these individuals are always alert and ready. The team of 172 volunteers deals with campus medical emergencies on a daily basis, such as sprains, fractures, panic attacks, hyperventilation, and fainting.
ECSpeRT belongs to the Mississauga division of St. John Ambulance (a national organization that provides first aid training throughout Canada), and provides first aid coverage to all students, faculty, and visitors present on the UTM campus.
Currently, ECSpeRT is on call from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays. “On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we’re also on call from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day,” says Meadow Libby, a third-year forensic anthropology specialist and psychology minor. “We’re slowly working towards 24/7 by adding on overnights to each our shifts.”
Additionally, ECSpeRT provides first aid coverage for events such as Orientation Week, sporting events, pub nights, and any club-held events that may occur at Erindale Park or off-campus.
During 2014, ECSpeRT responded to 124 calls. Since September 2015, the team has responded to 80 calls. According to Libby, the campus services coordinator, ECSpeRT receives about one call a day. “At the end of the month, we usually have 30 calls. That has been increasing exponentially over the years,” she says.
The team consists of volunteers from all over the UTM campus, including students, alumni, faculty, and staff. “We’re completely non-profit—St. John as a whole—we’re all volunteers,” says Libby.
In order to join the ECSpeRT team, applicants are required to possess a Standard First Aid certification. “However, we run courses for students at a discounted rate—half-price—so we save [them] about $100,” says Libby.
During the 2014/15 year, ECSpeRT accepted 40 new applicants to their team. For this year, the team has accepted approximately 70 new applicants. “Basically, we want to work towards our 24/7 goal,” says Cindy Zhu, a fourth-year biology major with a minor in chemistry and psychology. “We selected a lot more people this year just so that we were able to reach that goal by the end of this year.”
When volunteers first join the ECSpeRT team, they are known as “observers”. “You begin as an apprentice, which is basically where you get to learn how to become a [medical first responder]—the individuals you see in the red shirts,” says Libby.
All members are expected to attend a mandatory biweekly training session in order to keep up with skills that may not be used on a regular basis. Once observers complete a Medical First Responder course through St. John Ambulance, they are known as MFRs.
“There’s a lot of training [for the MFR course]—one-on-one, not only for the test, but to get into courses, and to also pass the course. It’s very difficult. It’s five days long,” says Libby. “Outside of us, the fail rate is 40% and they’re quite expensive. They’re given to our members for free.
“Our training as medical first responders—it’s considered advanced first aid. We have much more training than a standard first aider, in the sense that we can administer oxygen and many other things,” she continues. “We carry a lot of our equipment, but obviously below the standards of what a paramedic can do. So we’re not health care professionals in that sense. We’re another part of the emergency response system.”
“We actually have the same level of training as a firefighter,” adds Zhu. “And the same CPR certification that a nurse would have.”
Aside from observers and MFRs, there are also auxiliaries. These are volunteers who have graduated from UTM and continue volunteering, but no longer volunteer full-time with the team.
When the ECSpeRT team receives word of a medical emergency on campus, usually through Campus Police or students, a pair of MFRs along with at least one or more observer will attend the call.
When on a call, the MFRs are designated as a primary or a secondary. “The tasks are delegated a little differently,” explains Libby. “The primary will do more of a hands-on [approach and] ask the questions. The secondary will be taking vitals, like blood pressure and pulse, and relaying that information to the observer, who will be keeping track of all the times and all the paperwork and everything we need for our [patient care record].”
Recently, ECSpeRT has been facing unexpected costs, mainly due to the rise in AV costs at UTM. “We use AVs a lot for our biweekly training […] so that has been a big hit for us,” says Libby. “Whenever we run standard first aid courses, whether for our members or other people on campus, the instructors that come in obviously have to show PowerPoint presentations, so now having to pay out of our pocket as a non-profit organization for AV costs has been affecting us a lot.”
Libby adds that “[the AV costs were] kind of a shock to us this year”.
Along with the higher AV costs, the team also faces space issues. “We spend a lot of time in stairways and hallways trying to practice […] It’s difficult to expand when we don’t even have enough room to store our equipment and […] all of our paperwork,” says Libby.
ECSpeRT is funded through a levy from UTMSU. This year, UTM students (both full-time and part-time students) paid 53 cents towards the ECSpeRT levy.
“The only money we make is [through] donations from organizations at events that we may cover, as well as our first aid courses […] However, we do have to rent the equipment and pay for the instructor and we offer it at such a discounted price that the income is [not] substantial,” says Libby. “And we still need to purchase all the supplies that we use to fill our oxygen tanks, bandages, [and] cold packs […] Our income is minimal in that sense.”
However, Libby and Zhu remain optimistic in the face of growing costs.
“We’re all friends and it’s a close-knit family. We spend most of our time on campus in the office,” Libby says as she describes the ECSpeRT team. “If someone were to ring the phone, there’s almost always someone there to pick it up.”
Zhu mentions that it’s rewarding to attend medical emergency calls and make an impact. She says, “[We’re building] a community on campus [where] students [are] helping students.”