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Band lands first responder recruits

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Naicatchewenin First Nation now is home to nine new on-call emergency first responders.

The community had a first response team in the past but over time, it had become inactive through a lack of interest and some quitting because of the extreme nature of the job.

But after moving to this area, Mark Cudney, training co-ordinator with the Northwest Regional Training Centre, reached out to Armand Jourdain Sr., Naicatchewenin's health and social services director, to establish a new active emergency first response team.

“It took a couple months to get things going," Jourdain admitted. "But once we got things going, it was really a fantastic experience.”

He added response to the first training session was very good, and the community is looking to have a second intake of students in the fall.

Many First Nation communities in Northern Ontario don't have access to paramedic or hospital services on site. Meanwhile, the wait for an ambulance from nearby towns, such as Emo or Fort Frances, to surrounding First Nations' communities, like Naicatchewenin, can take up to an hour—and even longer in poor weather conditions.

The completed training of the nine individuals means residents of Naicatchewenin have access to medical assistance by those who have the skills to keep a patient in stable condition until an ambulance arrives.

The first responder program consists of 40 hours and provides basic medical training.

Training on basic equipment, such as oxygen, backboards, and defibrillators, also is provided by the NWRTC.

“It's quite a unique thing for the community to have this,” Cudney said.

The NWRTC provides the training for First Nations' communities free of charge, with funding through the Ministry of Health, and currently looks after roughly 50 communities, with about 20 of those operating an emergency first response program.

Cudney said they're looking to increase that number by at least five more teams.

Some of these communities are so remote that they don't have their own emergency services, meaning they usually require a medical evacuation.

“Often, they're in remote areas that have no access to emerge services so they become the emerg services,” Cudney noted.

“If Emo's [ambulance is] gone, it could take an hour for an ambulance to come—up to an hour,” he explained.

“So now they have the skills to stabilize—basic life support skills—and help their fellow community members.”

Trainers from the NWRTC will visit Naicatchewenin once a month to review the skills they've learned.

After a “period of time,” the teams will meet once a year to re-certify in CPR and other skills, as well as to ensure the team is up-to-date with modern first aid and medical methods.

Don Smith, a first responder when the community first took up the project almost 20 years ago, was one of the graduating first responders this time around.

He also has been a member of the Naicatchewenin volunteer fire department since it got its first truck in the late 1980s.

Most of the first responder team members also are on the community's fire team and finished qualifications for that just a few months ago.

“When I saw the posting [for] the first response training, right away I wanted to help out that way, too,” said Smith.

Robert Morrison also has been involved with the volunteer fire team and now is a certified first responder.

“I chose to do it to benefit the community," he remarked. ”To benefit our need of medical assistance and patient care.

“Just to help people where I can, when I can.”

Morrison said the training program helped him to improve on the skills he previously had acquired, but that it also introduced new methods from the changing medical field to his repertoire.

He was a first responder in Manitou Rapids for 13 years before moving to Naicatchewenin, where his partner and child live.

“I've been on the fire department between two different communities for 27 years,” noted Morrison.

“I've always enjoyed helping people when they need help.”

The sentiment of helping out their fellow community members is shared between many of the first responder graduates.

Cheryl Perrault and Vern Smith both graduated from the program last Friday.

“I just wanted to help our community," said Perrault. ”To be available.

“To make sure that if there is anybody in trouble within our community, that there would be people there to respond right away and be reliable,” she added.

Reliability is something Perrault felt was a concern with the first responder program in the past.

Responders are on call 24/7, which means they need to be ready to leave at a moment's notice, whether they're at home sleeping at 2 a.m. or on the golf course on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

If a 9-1-1 call is made, the call goes to dispatch in Kenora, which then will page the first responders in the area of the call.

From there, the first responder calls in to the dispatch centre and receives the information of where to go.

“It's my commitment to the community that I will be available," said Perrault. "I will be responding if people do end up phoning and needing the help.”

The safety of his children is what motivates Smith.

“I got a lot of kids so, if anything happens, I'm prepared for whatever happens to them,” he remarked.

“And for them to look up to me, too, doing the training.”

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