Protests give student emergency responders training opportunity

March 29, 2012
OpenFile.ca

The student protests taking place in Montreal are giving Concordia’s Student Emergency Response Team (CSERT) some ideal training opportunities.

The newly-formed, volunteer-run student organization was on the ground at last week’s student protest, and their presence may have helped make the massive demonstration on March 22 a peaceful one.

“We’re there just to survey in case something happens, to be the first responders on the scene,” said the group’s vice president of operations, Arndell LeBlanc. “Since we’re a Concordia club, part of our mandate is to ensure the health and safety of Concordia students.”

The March 22 protest was the first major event the team attended as a Concordia club and gave members an opportunity to intervene when tensions arose to help maintain order. “We’ve kind of become de facto security organizers, too,” said LeBlanc. The group is planning on being present at other protests as well as events in the Concordia community.

CSERT members were present at the Nov. 10 day of action, but because they were not yet approved as an official student club, they lacked the funding and were therefore not as efficient as they would have liked to be. But last week, they came better prepared and better equipped, with first aid kits, earpieces and walkie-talkies.

Group president Stephanie Kligman says their difficulties on Nov. 10 were largely due to the problems members encountered in talking to each other, which is why part of the student club funding they received from the Concordia Student Union went toward communication devices. “We’ve learnt from our mistakes in some respects,” Kligman said.

As individuals, however, none of the members lack first response experience. Kligman is a certified emergency respondent, and LeBlanc has first aid certification and was in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake to organize mobile clinics. The team also includes registered nurses and people who have experience driving ambulances. About 20 team members attended the protest.

Its members’ experience was responsible for much of their success on March 22 in organizing the crowd. From what OpenFile observed, both police officers and protesters responded positively to CSERT’s presence, and in turn, CSERT knew when to hand matters over to the police.

“Once the cops step in, it’s their authority over ours,” Kligman says.

With one of the biggest protests in Quebec history under their belts, CSERT’s members are now busy planning how to augment their presence on campus. LeBlanc says they would like to concentrate on not only being present for events, but on increasing their presence within the university community. “Our goal is to have two people on call at [each campus],” LeBlanc says.

Kligman invites interested individuals to join their team of volunteers by contacting them through Facebook.