Administration and Leadership, Training

Northwestern Ontario, Canada, High School First Responders Develop Life-saving Skills Early

Issue 1 and Volume 40.

A high school student falls down a flight of stairs. Dazed and confused, he doesn’t know what to do and a crowd is starting to form around him. He thinks about getting up when someone yells, “Stay right there and don’t move!” At that moment the first responders arrive, begin care and clear the scene.

This is just one of hundreds of examples the Fort Frances High School (FFHS) First Response Group is trained and prepared to render at our school in Northwestern Ontario, Canada.

The town of Fort Frances isn’t big and Ontario EMS, the ambulance service that aids the school, is fast and reliable. However, in a life-threatening emergency, the earlier emergency responders arrive and initiate care, the better.

Thus, the Fort Frances First Response Group was created in 2002, not only to aid paramedics, but to ensure the safety of others in surrounding communities.

Who We Are

FFHS is one of the only schools in Ontario that offers the first response and emergency medical responder training to students as an extra-curricular activity.

Once certified, a student Red Cross first responder/emergency medical responder (EMR) is put on call daily as part of a designated response team.
There are three members assigned to each team: one senior and two juniors. In an emergency, a team is dispatched to a scene and provides care until the area’s paramedics arrive. We average 100 calls per year.

The first responder program was started when local paramedic John Beaton saw a need to give high school students a taste of the medical field. The program is a vital opportunity for interested students as well as a career step for those who desire to further their studies in medicine.

The group has come a long way since 2002. It started with six students and one volunteer instructor, but has grown to its current capacity of 20 students and three volunteer instructors. The group spans grades 9–12, with 140 students trained since its inception.

The program is free, and never requires students to pay any out-of-pocket expenses. Successful past first responders now enjoy careers varying from paramedics, nurses, doctors and even correctional officers.

The role of this team has grown in so many ways that we’re now utilized not only in Fort Frances, but also in surrounding communities in Ontario such as Rainy River, Dryden, Ignace and Kenora. Every so often we travel to these communities to educate the public assisting members of their community.

What We Do

As FFHS first responders, we’re called out almost daily; typical calls range from sport-related injuries to anxiety attacks and fainting.

There are two phases to the first responder course: the first responder level and the EMR program. To start as first responders, we complete 40 hours of training where we learn airway management and oxygen therapy, AED use, injury immobilization, and how to provide other medical care until Ontario paramedics arrive.

Once we complete the required training and spend a year on call, we’re given the opportunity to upgrade to EMR status. This requires another 40 hours of training, focusing on advanced assessment and physiology, familiarization with ambulance equipment and layout, and gaining an understanding of dispatch and air ambulance operations.

Last year, wilderness first aid training was added to our skill set. This additional training enables us to work alongside paramedics when needed. “We’re trained to respond not only to in-school emergencies, but out-of-school emergencies we may encounter too,” Samantha Chambers, EMR, explained.

Rory, the manikin, helps teach the FFHS First Responders how to assess and treat a head injury.


Making a Difference

As first responders, we volunteer our own time to help other students learn, by running various programs such as PARTY (Prevent Alcohol-Related Trauma in Youth) and SIDNE (Simulated Impaired Driving Experience). These two programs are very close knit, since they both relate to students our own age, and teach them about the dangers of driving under the influence.

PARTY brings 10th-grade students to a hospital, where they’re taken through a day in the life of someone who’s had a serious trauma injury caused by poor choices.

The day begins when the hospital’s medical staff and first responders are introduced to the students. Members of the medical staff, paramedics, police officers, firefighters and rehab personnel explain their roles in dealing with traumatic injuries, and the students get to experience how these first responders take action and get involved on scene.

In the ED, a scenario is run to show what happens when a patient arrives. The first responders get involved by showing how they control bleeding and manage the patient’s airway. Rory, a CAE Healthcare METIman manikin that simulates multiple complex situations, begins to crash and the students participate in tasks performed to save him, including CPR, IVs, intubation, chest tubes, and some unpleasant tasks—such as inserting a Foley catheter.

Students then look into what life is like after a significant injury. They eat lunch without using their hands and are asked to use special tools that mimic having a disability. In the morgue, they see where a person’s poor choices could land them.

Finally, injury survivors speak to these students about how they’ve been affected by their choices. It’s always a very emotional time for the students and survivors, and a great way to end the day.

This powerful program sends a very real message to the students that they keep with them throughout their lives. 

The SIDNE program teaches kids what can occur if they’re under the influence of alcohol or distracted, such as by texting, while driving.

This is accomplished by having students drive go-karts that have a programmed 1.5-second delay on any of their actions. They turn left, the go-kart turns left 1.5 seconds later. Each student is shown how long alcohol stays in their system by having them chose a drink, and how many of those drinks they would have in an hour.

Many students are very shocked after learning how long alcohol stays in their system. The students are asked to perform a few activities such as walking in a straight line with “drunk goggles” on.

The goggles are set to simulate different blood alcohol content levels so the students can understand the difference between one drink and one-too-many drinks. If they can’t stay on the line, sirens go off to signal they’ve failed and would be arrested.

We assist in other community events with first aid as well, including dragon boat races, a Kiwanis barbecue, the Fort Frances Bass Fishing Tournament, the “chem-free” grad party, the annual “Beat the Band” 5K Run/Walk, and a roller derby.

The team show off their skills with Rory, the CAE Healthcare manikin, at a Fort Frances trade show.



We also spend a lot of time raising funds. Although we’re supported by the Rainy River District EMS (RRDEMS), the training is provided by volunteer paramedics. RRDEMS purchases our training manuals and replaces first aid supplies; the remainder of our funding—for first responder jackets, trips and classes—comes from fundraising.

Basic fundraising, like bake sales, wasn’t enough. So we developed a strong relationship with local businesses through advertisements on local and regional media outlets.

Donations from these businesses helped us purchase high-tech training equipment and other important projects, as well as our trip from Canada to the EMS Today Conference and Exposition in Washington, D.C., in 2014. We also decided to host a spaghetti dinner to pay for some of the trip’s expenses. The dinner was very successful and helped to achieve our financial goal.

Attending EMS Today

The EMS Today Conference was extremely beneficial to the group. Although the conference was designed for those who already have careers in the medical field, the chance to inquire about future careers was a great help. As future adult EMS providers, we were able to ask lecturers and adult attendees about past cases and experiences to aid us in making the right choices in the medical field.

During the conference’s advanced care sessions, while much of the content was above our level of education, we were able to grasp the advanced concepts and return home with new, inspiring assessment and care knowledge.

In other conference sessions, we learned about new advances in CPR and methods for stress relief and suicide prevention. The conference was also a great opportunity for us to see the latest pieces of EMS equipment, a few of which were added to the team’s list for future fundraising efforts. We were also able to show we knew our stuff and exhibit our skills, with several of us performing on simulators in the exhibit hall.

Practicing treatment on a child helps the first responders better prepare themselves for when they’re needed at school or locally.


Program Impact

Our group’s activities and experiences at FFHS are life-changing and will last long after graduation. One fellow first responder said, “The best part of being in First Response Group was getting to work with like-minded individuals who all shared a passion for helping others. Being able to work together and make a difference in people’s lives was an amazing experience. I’d have to say my favorite memory was during an extreme burn incident where I was first on scene and completely forgot my training due to the shock of the call. It was at that moment that I realized how much I needed my teammates and how much we support each other as a unit. It really makes the hours you put into training worth it when you’re able to help someone in need.”

Jerry Wu, a first responder who’s chosen a career path in biomechanics, explained, “My goals and interests have always been in medicine for as long as I can remember. Being a first responder really helped me put the different components of healthcare into perspective. Having that hands-on experience reinforced to me that medicine and ultimately helping others is my passion—plus the training is an excellent asset to everyday life.”

Joelle Madill, one of the first students in the group, said, “My favorite part was all the hands-on experience. I learned a great deal of skills that I still use today.  I also enjoyed being part of a group in school. I always looked forward to participating in scenarios. The program gave me the opportunity to help people and learn that I enjoyed helping people! I was put in emergency situations where I had to think and act and I enjoyed it. This program is a great start for younger people to have the opportunity to go and learn about emergency medicine and interact with others and find out if they’re interested in a career in EMS.”

Final Thoughts

The personal goals of each team member are all different, but as a group, we all have the same goal: to help people in need. Our future goals for our organization are to go to EMS Today in 2015 and we’re asking the school board to allow students to earn school credit for the class.

For some, the program is a calling; it runs through their blood and they’re influenced by medical careers in their family. Others become involved because they have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

No matter the reason for team involvement, the unity of the group is what makes it special. Anyone can join; there are no restrictions due to race, gender or grade level. Those who join serve the community and make an impact in their own way.

Most importantly, our group is very respectful and professional in our work, even at our young age. Our education and youthful experience isn’t a barrier, but a strength. Nothing fazes us because we have the confidence and know how to handle any situation that’s presented.