In the event of an emergency time is of the essence, and calling 911 is the first step every kindergartener is taught in school to access help. On a campus Trent’s size however, and with the nearest hospital 10 kilometres away, having a team that is not only familiar with the layout of the campus, but properly trained for emergencies is beyond convenient; it is necessary. Much like many other Ontario universities, Trent boasts of a highly responsive and well-trained first response team.
The Trent University Emergency First Response Team (TUEFRT) was originally founded in 1992 by undergraduate student John Reid, modelled after McMaster University’s team. As proven through a mock emergency at the time, the response time of ambulances arriving on campus was 27 minutes. Each one of them potentially crucial to saving one or more people’s lives. The report created after this stated “… It is generally accepted that once a person has stopped breathing or is without a pulse, a four to six minute window exists before irreversible brain damage occurs.” The initial team of 36 volunteers banded together to respond to calls within this timeframe, initially financially supported by the university. And so, TUEFRT was created with the intention of saving lives, shortening wait times for crucial situations, and creating a sense of security for those on campus.
25 years later, TUEFRT has failed this purpose. With reported wait times of 30 to 45 minutes in some situations, and no direct line, these First Responders are often the last on the scene.
One particular student, Madison, has had some rather disappointing and potentially life-threatening situations mishandled by the team. They recognize that they have a number of health complications, and often have a friend or two nearby in case of an emergency. With a very detailed medical history on their phone, and an established protocol amongst friends, getting help should be a simple feat. Instead, there is a running joke amongst them about whether calling TUEFRT or 911 would be faster.
“Calling the ambulance would be way faster," they unanimously agree.
Their lack of faith in the First Response team stems from their very first emergency and call to TUEFRT. Madison’s friends Ben and Taylor were the ones to call. They expected the response time to be fast considering they were not far from the TUEFRT office.
“We were in LEC, which is not very far from their headquarters in the Student Centre, and it took them 35 to 40 minutes to get to us.”
They called several times and were placed on hold more than once. When the responders eventually arrived, chatting breezily amongst each other, and gave no apology or explanation. Even more frustrating was watching a responder, who was obviously a trainee, attend to their friend despite the apparent emergency. After almost 40 minutes of tests, they decide that the patient is having a small stroke, and will need professional medical attention.
Ben, Madison’s emergency contact, was present during the ordeal and recalls the lack of care and sense of emergency the Responders displayed.
When he called the TUEFRT line, he was surprised to get a security guard instead. Unsure, he asks if he has reached TUEFRT and receives a curt ‘no’ in response. He called the number again with the same response.
“And I’m wondering to myself, ‘Is this truly dispatch?’ because it’s not possible [the person] who’s supposed to be dispatching for a medical emergency is not asking questions,” he recalled.
This interaction becomes the norm for the calls they make to TUEFRT with one exception. The second time Madison has to contact TUEFRT, they are in the Student Centre, and get a lightning fast response. There is a team of three responders within a few minutes and 911 is called as soon as it becomes apparent more medical help will be needed. Shortly after the first team arrives, another Responder shows up, out of breath, having ran all the way from Gzowski. Madison, Ben, and Taylor are all surprised, not only by the response time, but by the dedication and speed each member showed. This is inconsistent with their first experience and now they are left with one question: how reliable is TUEFRT?
Madison tried to be proactive by reaching out to the team and offering to fill out a form or provide any information that may be crucial to any of the numerous calls they believed would inevitably happen over the semester. They were told that no such system existed, and that they were well equipped to handle any issues their chronic illness may present because they’ve “had people with that.”
A seemingly small amount of student money is dedicated as a non-refundable levy to the group: $4.03 in the fall, and again for the winter term, for a total of $8.06 per student. As of 2017, there were 7413 undergraduate students in Peterborough alone. Almost $60 000 in 2017 alone was dedicated to TUEFRT, and this is the minimum amount. This amount is only a rough estimate based on the information provided by Trent for both levy amounts and undergraduate numbers. Graduates, international students, and Durham GTA students’ levy fees are not included in the estimate. However, considering that every First Responder is a volunteer, a large amount seems to be unaccounted for. While admittedly the training, vetting, and certification process is statistically expensive, extensive research into the levy groups, tuition breakdown and the official TUEFRT page provides no clarity as to how this money is spent. There is a mere mention of a $12 meal for each overnight and weekend on-call Responders, but barely any into the training systems used.
Finding any information about the inner workings or system of TUEFRT proved fruitless. From their official website to the many health and safety pages on Trent’s website, none shed any more light on either the system, or programs used to train the responders. The ‘Team History’ page of the TUEFRT site is littered with acronyms and names that, to the average person, mean next to nothing. An intensive Google search for "NCCER" and "MIXER," acronyms that repeatedly appear on the page, only serve to direct those curious about where their levy fees are going to many unrelated websites and options for popular KitchenAid mixers. The light at the end of the tunnel is encapsulated in a part of a sentence that reads “NCCER held at Queen’s University.” This search proves helpful and connects directly to Queen’s First Response Team’s webpage. It is disappointing that another university’s page is more informative about Trent’s practices and provides more information and transparency than Trent’s.
To attend these conferences and competitions, the Trent First Response Team must be a member of the Association of Campus Emergency Response Teams (ACERT). ACERT hosts two annual conferences: MIXER and NCCER. The page lists the team’s achievements, earning second and fourth place at the 2015-2016 MIXER; and the 2017-2018 year, when they placed first. These competitions test response time, knowledge, patient care, and teamwork. These competition placements say one thing: this team is well-prepared.
A former member of the team would beg to differ. In her complaint against the group, she cites several instances of misconduct, harassment, and hazing. The complaint, as well as a record of emails amongst the team members, shows a tradition of excessive drinking and partying as commonplace in the training. In an email from the training coordinator to the team, the contents of a CD were uploaded for members to download. The photographs were from a 15-year-old TUEFRT team retreat “where a lot is drinking and partying took place” by his own admission, and shared to over 30 people, perpetuating the ‘culture’ that has been existence, seemingly since the start of TUEFRT, or at least, traceable to 15 years prior.
After several instances of severe harassment, she decided to withdraw from the group. The response she received was immediate, scathing, and intended to permanently ostracize her from the group. The executives deem it appropriate to place her on a ‘blacklist,’ (which until that point she, nor anyone else, had never heard of) for violating the terms and conditions of the TUEFRT manual and “restricts [them] from rejoining the team for one academic term.” The email contains a surprising amount of other restrictions and written warnings such as a respecting the terms “confidentiality clause” signed during intake. Documents such as these are important when dealing with students' personal information, as well as health and medical information. However, in this context, it seems that people are being reminded to keep other details of their time at TUEFRT quiet.
In their official statement, they recall the gruesome tryouts and initiations, overrun with a lack of authority, harassment, and excessive drinking. The ex member also endured a second set of try-outs later that “... resulted in such humiliation, harassment, and loss of self esteem that in the following months, my mental health declined to the point that I started medication for anxiety, and did poorly in my winter classes.” A team that is meant to be dedicated to helping and aiding others, is instead emotionally and mentally injuring its volunteers, shaming them for disagreeing with their conduct by blacklisting, and prolonging the ordeal by restricting ex-member’s access to their own information.
Another complaint against the team simply starts with “TUEFRT hazes.” This is proven by the forced drinking challenges such as “hot sauce shots and keg stands.” If a personal account isn’t enough, a video posted to a members-only Facebook group, shows one member holding a beer funnel while the ex-member chugs at whatever alcohol is currently burning its way down their throat. The rest of the “reliable” team chants in the background, ‘It’s not hazing! It’s not hazing!’, showing an overwhelming amount of self-awareness and realization that this is hazing. One member even had the alcohol poisoning to prove it.
“It was apparent that one of the Responders had alcohol poisoning, so [the ex-member] went with her in the ambulance to the hospital. My Responder headband was recognized by a nurse who had been on TUEFRT. No exec called to check on us, I spent the entire night in a stretcher with [the incapacitated member], and the only resulting discussion was how I should have taken my headband off so there was no association with TUEFRT," stated the complaint.
And security was never informed of these events.
These drinking binges are not limited to their rookie parties. A portion of the funds TUEFRT receives from levy fees is used to facilitate attendance at the conferences and competitions they attend, but also to fund the admittedly expensive training. The complainant remembers the NCCER conference they attended well: “We drank to the point of black out each night; [they] were forced to funnel wine; and many Responders were so hungover they did not attend the lectures and workshops that the students levy money paid for.”
These habits and behaviours beg the question of who oversees this group? There is little to no accountability for any of these actions, and student’s money is being flushed down the toilet for a team that lacks communication so badly, they can take 40 minutes to respond to an emergency.
Sexual harassment was also present at these parties.
“We were made to play a game called Head to Toe, where they tape quarters on a senior responder’s body and we are forced to find them. I did not want to do it but was jeered on. The responder encouraged me to remove more and more of her clothing to find the quarters, at one point exposing her pubic hair." Practices like these trespass these members’ personal boundaries, autonomy, and enforce a sense of peer pressure to simply accept or comply to these invasive “games.”
It is not only jarring, but frustrating to hear that the team of volunteers meant to help the student body in emergencies is instead endangering them with their response times, emotionally and mentally abusing its members, and misusing and wasting student funds that could be reallocated to more-deserving sects. Who is overseeing this group, and why do they still exist after 25 years?
Please read further in Issue 9, on newsstands February 13, 2019.
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