Revelers at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship this weekend likely saw a group of young people around the big tent in blue vests with naloxone kits hanging from their belt loops.
These young people are First Responders, a group of high school students from Fort Frances High School (FFHS), a group who has dedicated time to learning advanced first aid and is committed to caring for people experiencing medical distress until professional paramedics arrive.
Led by former paramedic John Beaton, the group has been active in the community since 2003.
Starting in Grade 9, students at FFHS can sign up to join the team.
“It’s called the Red Cross Emergency Medical Responder Program. The first year it’s 40 hours worth of training,” Beaton said. “Then they upgrade to the medical responder level, and that’s another 40 hours’ training.”
The students are trained to deal with many common medical issues they could encounter.
“They’re trained in advanced assessments for medical stuff they could encounter,” Beaton said. “Anatomy, physiology, they have to know all of that. The signs and symptoms for different medical problems. They’re trained how to use defibrillators, Narcan (naloxone), glucometers for people having diabetic emergencies. They have training to give [Nitroglycerin] and Aspirin for cardiac emergencies, Ventolin for breathing emergencies and for allergic reactions, epinephrine.”
Fletcher Klug is going into Grade 12 at FFHS this fall; he joined the program last year when he started attending the school. He said he got into it because he is interested in career options it could help with.
“I wanted to be a paramedic,” Klug said. “I had heard that there was a first-responder group at the school. So I just started showing up to the meetings and found out how much I loved it and I haven’t looked back since.”
Klug also expressed confidence in Beaton as the group’s leader.
“John’s able to teach us, he was a medic for a long, long time,” Klug said. “So he’s got all the experience and the know-how, so he’s a fantastic teacher and he makes sure we’re fully equipped before we go on a call.”
The student First Responders are trained and given the ability to tend to first aid needs at FFHS.
“We get everything from paper cuts to slipping on ice, passing out. We deal with a lot of stuff at school,” Klug said.
They are able to take control of a given situation until paramedics arrive or they can assess someone experiencing a medical issue and advise whether or not they think an ambulance should be called, leaving the final decision up to the individual.
“We are not the ambulance,” Klug said. “But we’ll try to keep you alive as long as we can. We can also save the ambulance a lot of time because an ambulance doesn’t need to come for a call when someone cuts their elbow in a fall outside. But a lot of people freak out when they see blood and say ‘oh we need an ambulance.’ No you don’t, you just need someone who knows how to put you in a sling or whatever. But we can’t decide on a call, we can make our best recommendation on if we think a person should go to the hospital or not, but it’s up to them ultimately, because we don’t have the training to say yes or no. We just make a suggestion and try to give people the best care we know how to give.”
Beaton said the program gives students a good foundation if they want to go into the healthcare sector or other jobs that require some of the transferrable skills.
“If they do go into a medical career they’ve got a basis,” Beaton said. “Some of them go into paramedics [training]; they’ve got basic groundwork because the paramedic program is very hard. You’ve even got to have better marks than that to get into a nursing program. One of our doctors in town is a First Responder from years ago, and police officers and paramedics. We’ve got psychologists, mental health workers, nurses. It generates skills or an idea and then it gives them an idea what EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is like.”
The program also gives students a lot of opportunities to volunteer which is something many other kinds of programs look for as well.
“The school gives them 10 volunteer hours,” Beaton said. “But then I track all the hours because universities are not necessarily always interested in marks any more, it’s what you do voluntarily.”
Klug said that so far, the experience has been great for him.
“It’s amazing, so many people are very thankful that we can come out and help them,” he said. “The school seems appreciative of not having to spend money on ambulances or paying a full-time nurse and it’s great exposure for us. It’s a win-win — we get to deal with all these little calls and you get practice, not just dealing with injuries, but also dealing with the mental side of it. It’s just fantastic exposure especially if you’re someone who wants to get into the medical field.”
Any student in grades 9-12 interested in the First Responder program can contact John Beaton at 807-275-9396 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.