SERT stands ready around campus, around the clock

By Paul Mayne
January 18, 2013

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SERT3                                                                             Photos by Paul Mayne

Western’s Student Emergency Response Team (SERT) held its team testing or ‘Big Sit’ this past weekend in and around campus. Volunteers acted as casualties in different scenarios and locations throughout campus as SERT members were tested and evaluated by senior team members. Below, SERT responder Ethan Edwards assesses the condition of actor Kimberly Lehman. SERT member Kate Mittermaier prepares to transport a patient using a backboard, while Ron Polovitzky keeps the head still. SERT responders Luke Knechtel, Kate Mittermaier and Ron Polovitzky arrive on scene to treat former SERT member/actor Paul Clement following an accident near UC Hill. Former SERT member/actor Leah Hellyer is treated for a gash to the neck by responder Brendan Innes.



Should a student suffer a medical emergency on campus, the first responders could very well be a classmate. Should a staff member be suffering from chest pains, the first responders could very well be a student they assisted with a course. Should a faculty member begin having heart trouble, the first responders could very well be a student from their morning class.

When it comes to Western’s Student Emergency Response Team (SERT), this group of 53 student volunteers are ready around the clock to respond to every type of call you could imagine.

With Western’s campus population equivalent to that of a small city, SERT executive director Dan Buchanan said at any given moment there are thousands of students, staff, faculty and visitors that frequent or reside on campus.

While the university has created and continues to sustain a safe community, there is always the potential for injury. Despite best efforts to prevent emergencies, issues often arise, he said.

“Our response is a 24/7 emergency medical service with three co-ed responders on call at any time,” Buchanan said. “Each team member contributes approximately four-five shifts per month (10-14 hours per shift). While on call, SERT responders remain on campus and our night responders sleep in our on-call room within Student Health Services.”

Beyond their regular shifts, the students also cover events on campus and attend emergency response conferences and competitions. As a non-profit organization, SERT members regularly teach First-Aid courses to students, staff and faculty, as well as within the London community, in order to fund the program. Western groups such as the University Students’ Council and Housing and Ancillary Services also contribute annual grants to the program.

Buchanan said SERT continues to have a large applicant pool from year to year, where the extensive and extremely competitive application process begins. Training consists of an 80-hour course providing instruction on everything from oxygen therapy and spinal immobilization to defibrillation and advanced first-aid.


Each team member also undergoes 20 hours of training every September, as well as monthly trainings and evaluations – all of which are mandatory – to ensure the students have the ability to recognize an emergency and react accordingly, Buchanan said. He added training also includes extrication, identifying mental health issues and emergency childbirth.

“The team has a diverse educational composite including both Western and affiliate students enrolled in many faculties including Science, Health Science, Nursing, English, Business, Graduate Studies and Medicine,” Buchanan said.

Every year, SERT aims to select equal numbers from first- to fourth-year students, along with those in postgraduate programs, however this depends solely on the applicant pool. In his first year on SERT, Buchanan was a graduate student at Robarts Research Institute.

Not an ‘everyone can join’ team, he added SERT is particular in selecting those individuals who demonstrate solid knowledge of first aid and practical skills, as well as the ability for critical thinking in high-stress situations.

“I have never met a more motivated and dedicated group of people,” Buchanan said. “Our volunteers live and breathe SERT every day while maintaining a focus on school work and their other extra-curriculars. These individuals are motivated by their passion for Western and their fascination with emergency response.”

SERT continues to look for ways to improve its ability to respond by expanding the response supplies and updating training equipment to simulate realistic scenarios.

Anyone interested in finding out more about SERT, and perhaps how to volunteer, can visit




Founded: Through the initiative of Western student Robert Garland, the Student Emergency Response Team (SERT) was born in 1989 as part of Brigade 28 of St. John Ambulance. The team was overseen by St. John Ambulance and by Dr. Tom Macfarlane, Western’s Student Health Services director at the time. Garland became SERT’s first program director.

Members: 53

On-call: 24/7. Should someone call 911, London’s central dispatch will forward this call to Campus Police, which dispatches SERT as the first responder to any medical emergency on campus. 

Training: Each team member is certified as an Emergency Medical Responder, a level that is becoming widely accepted as a standard for Emergency First Response Teams across Canada. This is an intensive 80-hour course providing instruction on oxygen therapy, spinal immobilization, automatic external defibrillation and advanced first-aid. Each team member undergoes 20 hours of training every September, as well as monthly trainings and evaluations, all of which are mandatory.

Funding: SERT is a non-profit organization. The majority of our funding comes from providing Red Cross First Aid courses to the Western and greater London communities.

Equipment: Responders carry top-quality, modern equipment at all times including a defibrillator, oxygen and symptom-relief drugs such as ventolin and epinepherine, allowing responders to deal with any situation they encounter.

Transportation: Due to the size of Western's campus, SERT's primary response vehicle is its Toyota Tacoma truck. Responders will also run to calls for accessibility, location and speed requirements.




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