Brandon St. John Ambulance is prepping for an increased number of students as COVID-19 public measures are eased.
St. John Ambulance program co-ordinator Jodee Webster said courses are picking up steam for a variety of reasons — companies are re-opening to the public and require staff to know first aid, or people let their first aid lapse because they thought the non-profit did not have programs available during COVID-19.
January, February and March are typically the busiest time at the non-profit, she said, but this season may be busier a little earlier. Webster added St. John Ambulance is currently putting schedules together and adding more classes because they expect demand to significantly increase.
Courses offered by the non-profit include mental health first aid, basic first aid, intermediate first aid, basic lifesaving, pet first aid, a babysitting program and other learning opportunities. Webster noted sales generated from the courses go right back into the community through the provision of emergency first responders and therapy dog services.
The non-profit has been able to remain open in a modified form during the global health crisis because of the education they provide in the community.
"We were only running maybe 12 people in class; now we’re back up to 18 people in a class," Webster said.
An especially popular choice for students is proving to be the blended class for basic and intermediate first aid that allows for learning in the classroom and at home.
Webster said the basic first-aid class is typically a full day of work, and the intermediate is a two-day course. The modified blended program allows people to adapt their work schedules by taking some parts online at their leisure.
"You can sit down and finish it in one sitting or you can take two weeks," Webster said. "You do that online part on your own and then you just come in and do the practical. It cuts your time in half."
In Brandon, basic first-aid classes are currently available twice a week but will be running three times a week in the new year. The intermediate first-aid course is available twice a month but will begin running once a week in the new year.
The basic lifesaving course will be offered sometime in the future.
She noted classes are carefully staggered based on instructor availability.
If a program is needed for certification right away, the Winnipeg St. John Ambulance offers classes seven days a week.
Out courses are also available, and businesses can request an instructor to visit a facility.
As long as a course can be safely housed, instructors can take all of the equipment needed, including mannequins and AEDS, on-site for training.
While people may immediately think of first aid when they think of St. John Ambulance, Webster said, the organization provides a rich variety of services.
"One of our mission statements is to train people so that they can save lives," Webster said. "A lot of people don’t know that we offer all of these other services."
Available services include dog therapy training, community services and volunteer medical first-aid responders.
Community members can enrol as volunteer medical first-aid responders after completing a criminal record check, child abuse check, attending the intermediate first-aid course and working shadow hours with another volunteer. Students can participate in an orientation to get a taste of the work to ensure it is a type of volunteerism they are interested in.
"We do all of the Wheat King games [and] any events that are at the Keystone," Webster said, adding the next big events for medical volunteers will be Ag Days and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair. "We’re hoping to get more volunteers involved and going through that whole process of being able to be considered a medical first-aid responder so that they can work at the fair."
St. John Ambulance will soon be restarting dog therapy. Through the program, people can bring a dog with the right temperament to be trained to visit nursing homes and schools in the community.
"It’s proven that just calms down anxieties," Webster said.
The program was run prior to COVID-19 but was put on pause during the pandemic.
The non-profit is also looking to bring TAILS (Therapy Animals Involved in Literacy Skills) to town. The program is implemented in libraries and gives young people the opportunity to read to a dog in a non-judgmental environment.
"The results say that their levels of reading increase two levels in a 10-week period," Webster said. "It’s kind of cool. I would like to make sure we get that here."
One of the biggest hurdles St. John Ambulance now faces is a shortage of instructors.
Webster said it is incredible being an instructor with the program, as it serves as an opportunity to pass on skills that could one day save a life.
It is a powerful experience when people share stories of when volunteers have saved lives, or when students tell stories of lives they have saved.
"If retired people are looking for something to do, or younger people, it’s a very rewarding thing to do," Webster said.
» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp