You can help save lives as part of Peel's new volunteer first-responder project

If you call an ambulance in Peel region, there’s a chance the first person at your door won’t be a paramedic at all — thanks to a new volunteer first-responder program meant to save precious seconds in life-threatening situations.

Volunteers will be trained to fill gaps in crucial moments until paramedics arrive

Peel Regional Paramedic Services is looking for more participants for its volunteer community responder pilot project, which is meant to fill gaps between when a person calls 911 and when paramedics arrive. (Region of Peel/YouTube)

If you call an ambulance in Peel region, there's a chance the first person to see you won't be a paramedic at all — thanks to a new volunteer first-responder program meant to save precious seconds in life-threatening situations.

Launched last month in partnership with Sunnybrook Hospital and the Peel Regional Paramedic Service, the volunteer community responder pilot project uses an app to alert trained and specifically equipped volunteers that an emergency is happening nearby.

Paul Snobelen, the community safety specialist with Peel paramedics, told CBC Radio's Here and Now this week that part of the impetus behind the program was a relatively low uptick in the usage of automatic external defibrillators (AED) in the community, even though they're stationed in public places like schools and rec centres.

Some people, even those trained in their usage, were reticent to use them, or they weren't spotting the life-saving devices, he said.

"But we know that individuals in the community are willing to help," Snobelen said. "So what we wanted to do was find a way to connect those who are willing to help to those who need the help, and to provide the equipment to do it."

Here's how the process works: volunteers who are certified in First Aid and CPR go through an onboarding process. Then they're given an AED, a "stop bleed kit," and in some cases an epipen to treat allergic reactions and naloxone, to treat opioid overdoses..

LISTEN | Snobelen explains program:

A new pilot project in Peel Region is putting help in the hands of everyday people. The project is training civilians to respond to cases of cardiac arrest, in instances where THEY are closer than paramedics. Paul Snobelen is a Community Safety Specialist with Peel Paramedics and spoke with guest host Chris Glover about the program.

Then they are able to download an app that will send out an alert if the volunteer is near an emergency call. If the volunteer accepts, they could be first on the scene and able to provide first aid, with a paramedic on call to provide guidance through the app.

"It doesn't change anything about how our call criteria works. We're still going to send the fire department, we're still going to have police attend," Snobelen said.

In essence, all of the key pieces of an emergency response still happen the same way. Snobelen said paramedics can generally get to a person's door in six minutes or less — but with the increased development of condos and skyscrapers, they also sometimes need to get up dozens of floors, which adds time in crucial situations.

"With our community responders who are either in the building or close to a building, it helps us address that vertical response time as well," he said.

Researchers will also study the program to determine how early intervention improves survival rates. When someone in cardiac arrest gets early CPR and defibrillation, Peel paramedics say, their chance of survival can increase by up to 70 per cent.

"So if we can get help to you as quickly as possible, we can make that difference," Snobelen said.

The program is rolling out at a time where Ontario's health-care system is under particular strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Toronto reported earlier this year that average unplanned absence rates were hitting more than 10 per cent across its divisions, including its emergency services, as the Omicron wave surged.

Patients in emergency rooms in the province are also waiting record lengths of time to get admitted to hospital.. 

Snobelen said pressure on the health-care system didn't have any effect on the rollout of the program, as it was planned before the pandemic hit.

"It hasn't really had a bearing on how the deployment takes place," he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can do so online.


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