Ryerson Student Emergency Response Team seeks to expand campus coverage

Ayman Al-Sukhon was playing a group game, when one of the students, while running, hit and split his lip. Almost immediately, security and students garbed in paramedic uniforms emerged to treat him. This is the moment when he decided to join RyeSERT — the Ryerson Student Emergency Response Team.

“I saw [how] the student group is doing something really good for the campus,” said Al-Sukhon, a third-year mechanical engineering student. He joined in 2014 and is currently the recruitment officer for RyeSERT.

His time on the team has kindled an interest in emergency care services and he is now eyeing a career as a paramedic or police officer. If that doesn’t pan out, he said that at least he has his engineering degree to fall back on.

RyeSERT, a volunteer-based campus emergency care group, provides pre-hospital medical treatment to people within the International Living/Learning Centre and Pitman residences, while also covering major campus events such as frosh, sports games, and concerts. It was founded in 2005 by then student, Joshua Bezanson. It is now led by a team of about 15 active responders, who are Ryerson students with varying levels of experience.

Al-Sukhon said that volunteers learn as they go. “On my first shift, I remember learning to take blood pressure for the first time.”

With an office nestled in Pitman Hall, the group deals with a range of cases, including those that can be treated with an ice pack and bandage, to more urgent ones. In cases that extend beyond their knowledge and expertise, the team calls for an ambulance.

Al-Sukhon said that RyeSERT wants to grow, but their biggest challenge is expansion. They are looking to Western University’s Student Emergency Response Team as its model. He said that Western’s team has a more rigorous training program, where members can get their full emergency medical responder license, and provide campus-wide coverage 24-7.

Aidan Kerr, a third-year politics and governance student, works as the team’s training officer. He was in his second year when a friend and member of RyeSERT introduced him to the group, peaking his interest immediately. He said that the group’s biggest challenge has been getting people to join.

Along with holding on-call courses at the start of every semester, RyeSERT attends student group fairs to inspire new recruits. But Kerr said it can be tough to get people interested, especially when there are several other groups all vying for new members. “It’s kind of like we’re jockeying for our position and we want to get our name out there as best we can.”

But retaining the interest and commitment of those who do sign up is half the battle.

Once school starts and students get bogged down by assignments, the interest dissipates. “It becomes hard to rationalize taking four hours out of [their] day to do RyeSERT,” Kerr said.

The recruitment process can take about a month and a half to complete. It includes an extensive form, a screening, and a course that goes through the standards of practice, which leads to the standard first aid and CPR training.

Two years ago when Al-Sukhon had just started, they received about 20 calls in a semester. This year, they received just seven. “Some years it’s higher, other years it’s lower,” Kerr said.

The most common type of call they receive is about intoxicated students. “They lose control and end up having a little too much [to drink] and usually security will receive a call and dispatch us about stomach aches and headaches.” The responders monitor the student’s blood alcohol level, ensure that they get enough water, and let them stay in the office until they feel better.

For Al-Sukhon, it’s the little things that make the job worthwhile. He was on duty at a hockey game when a five-year-old boy cut his finger on sheet metal. The boy approached him teary-eyed. Once treated, the child smiled with relief. “That felt really good,” he said. “If we put a smile on someone’s face, those are the best times for me.”

But he also admits that the job isn’t without its downsides. “Those really long quiet shifts, where you’re here overnight [can be] pretty harsh because you have to stay awake through the eight hours or 12 hours you’re [working].”

Before coming to Ryerson, Kerr attended Carleton University, but did not know a student-based emergency service team existed. So, when he sought medical care, he went off campus to get it.

“I know that there were times when instead of going to the local walk-in clinic, which was a bus ride away, it would have been a lot easier for me to just walk down and talk to someone, who had a level of expertise in medical care, on campus,” he said.

In certain cases, students may fear being rebuked or penalized. Kerr says that it’s easier for students to approach their peers, of the same age and on the same level, for help.  “We’re all students, we’re all going through the same stress.”

Featured image courtesy of Adeline Boey