Saskatchewan is a province of neighbours helping neighbours, friends helping friends, of well-supported community fundraisers and committed volunteers.

Among the most important volunteers a community can have are First Responders.

When a person places a 9-1-1 call to ask for help in an emergency, the dispatcher will alert the nearest ambulance to respond to their location. While the ambulance is on its way, First Responders who live nearby are also dispatched.

Often able to arrive on the scene first, a First Responder can make a huge difference in the situation by providing life-saving skills such as CPR, controlling bleeding, and providing oxygen while also offering comfort and support to the patient and/or their families until the ambulance arrives.

The services provided by a First Responder can be especially vital in small towns that don’t have ambulance services based in their communities.

The rural areas of Saskatoon Health Region are home to some very dedicated First Responders. However, more are needed.

“For example, right now, there are only two First Responders in Lake Lenore,” explained Sherri Jule, Manager of Rural Ambulance Services for Saskatoon Health Region. “We would like to have more than that in every rural area – a bigger group builds better support for the First Responders, and provides faster emergency responses for the community. Annaheim is also starting a First Responders group and is in need of more members.”

First Responders practice skills at a training session.

First Responders are highly trained volunteers who provide assistance to those in need while an ambulance is on its way. Continued training sessions are held for First Responders twice a year in Saskatoon Health Region.

A First Responder can be any member of a community over the age of 18. Many are local farmers and ranchers, retirees, volunteer fire fighters, and other community members. Almost anyone can be trained to fill this important volunteer role.

Pat Pomedli of Pilger has been a volunteer with Three Lakes First Responders since 2006.

“I like to think we’re filling a need within the community, filling the gap between when a call is made and the ambulance is on the scene. We can be there first,” he said. “There are certain situations where time is critical, and the care we can provide can make the difference for people.”

When there’s an emergency situation, and you call for help, those who live in rural areas know that it’s going to take a certain number of minutes for the ambulance to arrive simply due to the distance involved. However, that number can change depending on weather, road conditions, road construction, and whether there’s an available unit in the nearest community. This is when the role of First Responders gets even more critical – with First Responders providing care, those possibly extra minutes of waiting aren’t lost.

Having First Responders get to a scene first not only helps the patient, it can also help the ambulance crew that’s on their way.

“When the phone rings, you might get a bit of a heads-up on what the call for help is for. But until you’re on the scene, you’re not really sure what you’re looking at,” Pomedli explained. “Once we get there, we pass our assessments onto dispatch, to give the paramedics on their way a heads up. It gives them a clearer picture of what is actually happening before they arrive.”

Knowing their home area allows First Responders to get to an emergency fast, Pomedli added. When they are dispatched to someone’s home or farm, they know exactly where to go and the best way to get there – that’s just a part of rural life.

“Give me a name, and I can find the house or the farm,” Pomedli said.

Responding to an emergency involving someone you know can be difficult, he admitted, but it can also provide motivation to do your absolute best.

“We always make our best effort, but when it gets personal, when it’s someone you know and don’t want to let go of, it’s an incredible driving force,” he said.

There are wins for First Responders, and of course, there are losses as well.

“Sometimes, there’s no hope of influencing the outcome of a call,” Pomedli said. “But sometimes, people are alive today because we were there when they called. That’s what keeps me going.”

Pomedli highly recommends people getting involved in the First Responder program.

“It’s a way of giving back to the community. We are volunteers,” he noted, “and I think it’s an important service to have in a community. The further you are from a large centre, the more critical it is.”

And it’s essential, he added, to have enough members in an area to form a good team.

“I’m very grateful for the people in our group,” Pomedli noted. “They are extremely dedicated, and don’t hesitate to answer calls if they are available. It helps a lot when you know you can rely on people in the group.”

 Saskatoon Health Region offers the Red Cross First Responder program as the standard for First Responders in the province and provides regular opportunities for First Responders to obtain continued training– every March in Saskatoon, and every November in a rural location.

“The training that you get as a First Responder gives you life skills you can use every day at home,” Pomedli said. “And it gives you the confidence to know what to do in emergency situations that happen in everyday life, like if you come across a vehicle collision. As a First Responder, you know what has to be done, and what to do first. Of course, no one expects to come across an accident on the road, but a lot of people do, and our training helps.”

If you are interested in training as a First Responder, a Red Cross First Responder Course is being offered in Quill Lake on weekends between October 23 and November  1. Prior to taking the course, you must fill out an application form, and complete a criminal record check. You must also have a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) C and automatic external defibrillator (AED) certificate.

“First Responders not only work with their communities and Saskatoon Health Region but also with their local ambulance service and other emergency services to ensure that the best care is provided to those in need,” noted Mila Herauf of Watrous and District Ambulance, a trainer with the First Responder course.

First Responders are licensed by the Government of Saskatchewan as an Emergency Medical Services provider, and must re-certify every two years to ensure they have up-to-date training in core competencies like spinal immobilization, airway management, patient assessment, CPR C and AED.

“First Responders are extremely important assets to any community,” said Rod MacKenzie, Director of EMS, ACAL and Rural Integration with Saskatoon Health Region. “Without them, many people would face crises on their own. They are dedicated, reliable and trained volunteers, and invaluable members of the emergency medical services team.”

For more information on the upcoming course, call Mila Herauf of Watrous and District Ambulance at 946-1214.