Rugged Life: What It’s Actually Like to Be a Volunteer First Responder
Last year, the time that Scott Murchison spent volunteering with a hospital and ambulance company equated to almost 20 weeks of full-time work. That was on top of the 52 weeks he worked full time for Zebra as an engineer.
Today is First Responder Day in Ontario, and we felt it was the perfect occasion to once again salute these front-line heroes and showcase the incredible sacrifices of one of our own: Scott Murchison.
He is a Zebra engineer by day, a medical first responder by night, a hero to everyone he meets and one of the most humble and hardworking people you will ever meet.
When the Your Edge Blog team was first introduced to Scott by another Zebra in 2019, he was being celebrated for 10 years of volunteerism at a local hospital emergency department in Ottawa, Ontario.
He had also just completed his first year as a fully certified Medical First Responder with St. John Ambulance. Already impressed by his commitment to the health and safety of those in his community, we later learned that Scott had just come off a record-setting year at St. John Ambulance.
In addition to working full time with Zebra, volunteering 100 hours at the hospital emergency department and training for 140 hours to improve his skills as a Medical First Responder, Scott volunteered a whopping 500 active duty hours as a Medical First Responder with St. John Ambulance – the most of anyone within the company for 2019!
Oh, and did we mention that Scott has also volunteered at the annual Carp Fair near Ottawa for nearly 20 years?
And that he is also an accomplished woodworker and home renovator and maintains his own well-equipped workshop? In fact, he’s renovated nearly every part of his family’s home by himself! (These showcase just a few examples of his amazing work.)
Of course, we were eager to learn more about what drives this father of two grown sons and loving husband of 37+ years to give so much of himself to others. Keep reading to find out for yourself…
Your Edge Blog Team: First, off, we just want to say thank you for all you do for Zebra and your community. You are truly an inspiration! We have to know…given the number of hours you worked in 2019 both as an engineer and first responder, did you even have time for yourself?
Scott: On paper, it seems like a lot, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I’m always on the go. I love meeting people and helping out where I can. Our sons have left home, so it is just my wife and me at home, and I make sure to commit time to things she wants to do.
Your Edge Blog Team: Is your desire to help others the reason why you became a Medical First Responder?
Scott: Actually, it was Zebra that set me on this path, in a way. I’ve worked with Zebra as a test engineer in a small, nine-person remote office in Ottawa since 2014 and was designated to be the Health and Safety team lead in 2015. Around July 2018, we had a safety audit and I was asked if I had first aid training. I did not, so I was signed up in August at Zebra’s expense. During the training, the instructor mentioned that St. John Ambulance is always looking for more volunteers. I thought about it and decided to give it a try. I figured that learning about medical care would give me a new skillset that I could use anywhere. I had already been a hospital emergency department volunteer for over nine years at that point, so I saw what the nurses were doing. Even though I knew that I wasn’t cut out to provide patient care in that setting, I could still help out in the field in a similar capacity.
I joined St. John Ambulance as a volunteer a month later in September 2018, passed my first course – Basic Life Support – on October 16 and became a fully certified Medical First Responder on December 2 after passing an all-day test.
Your Edge Blog Team: Can you tell us a little bit about your typical shift as a Medical First Responder?
Scott: For a typical duty assignment, I put on my uniform and gather up some of my own supplies, including personal protection equipment (PPE), a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, wound care items, penlight for checking pupils, notepad, pens and more. We actually buy our own uniforms and must maintain a certain look. If I am designated as the Incident Commander (IC), I organize the St. John Ambulance people, assign tasks, check all of our equipment (trauma bags, oxygen, AED, supplies, radios, etc.), liaise with the event organizers and ensure that we are able to respond to any casualty at a moment’s notice. We call in 911 responders when needed. After the duty is over, we gather all of our equipment and bring it back to the St. John Ambulance office, sign it back in and head home to rest.
Your Edge Blog Team: Where are you typically assigned? Any special duties?
Scott: Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a calendar of local events at which St. John Ambulance would provide Medical First Responder services. These included marathons, bike races, hockey games, large parties, diplomatic and government events and all sorts of other events.
Your Edge Blog Team: Any particularly memorable events?
Scott: The picture below shows me at a martial arts event. During the day-long event, we had 15 casualties, including a broken arm, cracked ribs, strained intercostal muscles (between the ribs), cuts, bruises, dizziness, head injuries and so on. I have also tended to patients suffering from epileptic seizure, breathing difficulties, scrapes, falls, animal bites and other issues.
Your Edge Blog Team: How have things changed since the COVID-19 outbreak began? I would imagine the event schedule has been reduced due to social distancing. Have you been reassigned to other types of duties?
Scott: Since the outbreak began, I’ve had to stay away from the hospital emergency department. St. John Ambulance also canceled all events for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I am studying my training guides to be prepared for when I can go back on duty. I’ve set myself up to serve as a Tier 1 responder in Ottawa for emergency call outs if something happens, though. This could be a major flood, like the two we’ve had in the past three years; tornados like we had in 2018; or other natural disasters. If the call comes in, I’ll be onsite within three hours. Zebra’s support for team members who volunteer makes this possible.
Your Edge Blog Team: Are you finding yourself with more free time these days? If so, how are you spending it?
Scott: Well, I’m a lifelong technology guy, having worked in the field for 40 years. It is both my career and my hobby. I was awarded an innovation project last fall for a semi-autonomous robot for a project I am part of, so I brought it home and hopefully, I will finish it soon.
I own two 3D printers and love designing things and printing them. I just designed a clip that nurses can use to keep the elastic bands of face masks off their ears during this COVID-19 outbreak. I am printing them at home, and they are being used in Ottawa hospitals. I’ve supplied over 200 so far.
I’ve also been able to help out the hospitals by 3D printing headbands for face shields. They go to a local hospital in Ottawa where they are sterilized, the shield part and straps are added and then distributed to nurses. Ottawa area makers have printed hundreds of them so far.
Your Edge Blog: We imagine that you need to stay in shape considering the extreme physicality required of first responders.
Scott: Yes. I don’t consider myself extremely fit at all, but I have to be fit enough to stand or walk for hours carrying some equipment, run if I have to and lift or carry a casualty if needed. At the end of a long event, I may feel like I’ve run a marathon, so it is important to maintain a certain level of fitness.
I actually swim approximately 3-5 kilometers per week, play baseball and soccer in the summer and cycle and walk a lot. So, even though I’m pressing up against 60 years old, I manage to stay healthy enough to work and volunteer.
One popular event that we’re called to work is Nature Nocturne, a huge party hosted each year at a major dinosaur museum in Ottawa. Duty starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m., always on a Friday. So, you can imagine the energy you need after working a full day at Zebra and immediately heading to this second duty location for a full shift until the early morning hours. They blast music from three DJs, so my head is ringing for hours afterwards.
Your Edge Blog Team: Would you say that maintaining physical fitness is the hardest part of being a Medical First Responder?
Scott: Actually, for me, training requirements have been more challenging. My life is in engineering, not medicine, so I have to work hard to keep myself trained and prepared. When you’re out at an event and the call comes in on your radio, you have to be able to act fast, think fast and treat a patient in the most professional way. You don’t know what you are going to be faced with before you get the call.
There is always something new to learn in both fields, and I find a structured engineering-type approach has helped me a lot in learning medical practices. As a Medical First Responder, I digest a lot of training material and attend training sessions every week to learn how to identify and treat such a wide variety of medical conditions, situations and injuries.
In addition to my basic first aid, CPR-C and AED certifications, I have also secured basic life support (BLS), Medical First Responder, Mental Health First Aid, Wilderness First Aid, Ambulance Driver and Attendant certifications through St. John Ambulance.
Your Edge Blog Team: What advice would you give those thinking about this field of service, whether EMT, firefighter or law enforcement officer?
Scott: Ask yourself first if these fields hold any serious interest for you. What attracts you to the field? Do you have any idea what the requirements are from a time and training perspective? And are you willing to give it your best shot? These are serious fields, and you won’t succeed if you go only halfway. Lives can be at stake. If you are going to jump in, do your very best, never take it for granted and the rewards will be huge. You will discover a very real and exciting life outside the comfort of your lab.
**UPDATE June 17, 2020: Since this blog post was first published, Scott was awarded a Director's Commendation for facilitating Zebra's donation of an ID card printer to St. John Ambulance. He now makes all the ID cards for its Federal Division. He was also awarded the 2019 Distinguished Service Award and 2019 SJA Duty Hours Award Certificate for 400-600 hours on duties.
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in becoming a Medical First Responder, an engineer or both, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can connect you with Scott for more insights on the education requirements and typical “day in the life” of either profession.
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