SFU Burnaby needs an emergency medical technician on site before another tragedy occurs

Campus Security has some first aid training, but an actual professional would be best

After two medical emergencies it’s clear we need a dedicated professional on campus. Photo: Ahmed Ali/The Peak

By: Kim Regala, Staff Writer

You’re sitting in lecture when a student in your class starts experiencing shortness of breath. Campus Security is alerted right away, but when they arrive, it’s clear that they are not entirely trained for the situation.

An incident where our school’s assigned medical team is not well-equipped for a medical emergency may seem hard to believe. However, it’s not far from a recent situation at SFU, wherein a student reportedly experienced a seizure and witnesses took to Reddit to discuss concerns about SFU Security’s response. This happened in the wake of the tragedy that occurred during the Fall 2018 semester, when a student suffered cardiac arrest during an archaeology exam. Unfortunately, qualified help arrived too late and the student passed away.

As medical emergencies continue to worry students, it’s about time that SFU pays closer attention to our inadequate options for medical safety. What we need is an emergency medical technician (EMT) onsite — someone whose sole responsibility is to handle these instances and is properly trained to do so. As medical emergencies can happen at any place or time — even to seemingly healthy young folk — we shouldn’t have to rely on individuals who may not have the right training to deal with situations like these.

In the event of a medical emergency, SFU’s emergency procedure urges students to call 911, preferably from a campus phone so SFU Campus Security can be notified as well. While this is typically the most optimal course of action for most crises, our school’s location makes this difficult in medical emergencies. With Burnaby campus situated on top of a mountain, ambulances can take longer than normal to arrive at the scene. 

Paramedics are expected to reach an average response time of nine minutes. Recent reports, however, suggest that this is only achieved in 50% of life-threatening calls in urban centres around British Columbia. Factor in weather conditions and limited roads that actually reach our campus, and there is a serious cause for concern for help to get here in time.

Considering these circumstances, it is especially important that SFU provides students with medical professionals onsite. We currently have to rely on Campus Security, whose expertise is limited to minor injuries, first aid, and urgent assistance. In response to email questions sent by The Peak, Andrea Ringrose, Director of Campus Public Safety, clarifies that all contract security officers have some level of first aid training, and that “permanent SFU Campus Public Safety (CPS) Supervisors are certified to Occupational First Aid (OFA) 3 level, an advanced level of first aid training and certification.” According to the ProSafe First Aid website, this level includes “identifying and managing” respiratory, circulatory, and environmental emergencies. 

However, Ringrose also notes that even with this level of first aid training, “security officers are not paramedics” and that they are trained as “initial response to medical emergencies, injuries and cardiac arrest until emergency services are on scene.” Additionally, Campus Security’s role is not exclusive to medical emergencies, which means that they may not have the experience necessary to deal with incidents that are less common than your typical sprains or cuts. 

Other institutions have already recognized the importance of having dedicated medical staff on hand in case of emergencies — for example, UBC. On top of having their own campus security, they also have the Occupational First Aid Team, a group dedicated specifically for handling medical issues on campus. This service is available 24 hours a day, and is reachable through landline numbers that can be found online. While students at UBC are also asked to call 911 in medical emergencies, the big difference is that UBC actually has a hospital on campus, so response times may be drastically shorter.

If our fellow BC university can offer immediate and proper medical help on campus in the event of an emergency, so can we. Instead, we have to rely on a team whose job is not first and foremost to attend to medical emergencies. Having an EMT onsite would be the best option to avoid any other tragedies on our far-flung mountain campus. Emergencies happen all the time — at the very least, our campus should be well-prepared for them.