Life-saving skills: Elevating health and safety across our campus communities

Committing to a culture of care CPR and Standard First Aid certification.

People on fitness equipment, Hanson Fitness and Lifestyle Centre

Last year, Maren MacDonald, a recreation facilities attendant with Campus & Community Recreation, saved a life. A private rental group called 9-1-1 for a cardiac arrest, and 9-1-1 directed the caller to the Hanson Fitness and Lifestyle Centre. At the Centre, Maren responded to the call for help to provide the automated external defibrillator (AED) at the desk. When she arrived on the scene there were already a number of concerned bystanders present, but Maren decided to help further. She assessed the scene and tapped into her first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and AED training, and expertly led other volunteers to assist in supportive roles — all while maintaining her composure in a high-stress, chaotic and traumatic scene. Unfortunately, situations like this are not uncommon – fortunately, trained U of A employees like Maren are often able to step in and provide life-saving support.

Expanding the role of a bystander

If you’ve found yourself in a crowd hesitant or unsure how to help in an emergency situation, you’re not alone. “I think there are always people, in any situation, who don’t quite know what to do. Or, they see a number of people already volunteering their efforts and don’t want to add to the chaos of a situation unfolding,” explains Cheryl Harwardt, director of Campus & Community Recreation (CCR), who oversaw the aftermath of this particular incident. But, Cheryl says, individuals in that crowd can and should play an important role beyond that of a bystander. 

Some indirect ways you can provide support are: 

  • Recognizing what is going on and offering your support, even when there are others actively helping. 
  • Offering to call 9-1-1 and share pertinent information to the dispatcher about the individual in distress, location so emergency responders can arrive at the scene promptly, etc. It is also recommended to inform U of A’s Protective Services at 780-492-5050 of the incident, and if occurring at the Augustana campus to call 780-608-2905.
  • Acting as a wayfinder for emergency responders (i.e., flagging paramedics either outside or inside the campus building).
  • Calming a friend and/or family member who may be present as the scene unfolds.
  • Containing the scene by directing other bystanders back so that volunteers can focus and perform their training and so that the individual in distress has privacy.

Debriefing about an incident is valuable

With aspects of standard first aid performed every day across our campuses, using an AED can be traumatic and can leave individuals who’ve used the life-saving equipment with a spectrum of feelings and behaviours, including anxiety, stress, avoidance, ruminating, shock and distress. It’s important, stresses Cheryl, that anyone involved in an emergency incident receive appropriate, timely support — whether on- or off-campus. 

One way to ensure your colleagues can thrive after an incident is checking-in, whether formally or informally, between your immediate supervisor and/or team is a helpful first step, along with ensuring the incident is reported. Additionally, those who have used an AED or who have experienced other traumatic incidents while assisting someone in distress are encouraged to seek additional resources through the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

For CCR, ongoing communications between leadership and staff help to make sure those involved in a major incident are supported accordingly. An internal debrief to discuss the health and safety of staff and process improvements is another step Cheryl and her team prioritizes. “We conduct an internal debrief that is largely based on how we performed. It’s not just about 'Did we save a life?' but also includes reviewing our systems and assessing if they are supporting us in delivering both basic and critical care to our campus community members and anyone who engages with our centre.” One example of how CCR supports individuals with taking an active role in an emergency situation is making sure AED equipment in the Centre is accessible. Currently, AEDs in the Van Vliet Centre are located in high traffic areas including the fitness centre, by the arena, at the pool and in Social Street. Anyone who feels a situation requires an AED while at the Centre should alert staff, contact 9-1-1 and then alert Customer Service staff at 1-24F in the Van Vliet Complex.

General health and safety tips when at Van Vliet (and other campus locations)

You can help elevate health and safety practices across our campus communities by:

  • Assessing: Scan your environment for potential health and safety issues that might impact you, other campus community members or campus visitors.
  • Reporting: Report all incidents or unsafe conditions to your supervisor and use the U of A's incident reporting form. Follow-up with staff regarding health and safety issues you noticed and/or reported.
  • Identifying: Know where to find the help you need, including staff and necessary first aid and AED equipment. If you notice that the AED is not working or the kit needs restocking, tell a staff member. Most importantly, learn how to properly use an AED. Anyone can use an AED. They are simple to use and provide clear instructions to the user. The best approach to AED use is to always have one available when an incident includes someone who has no pulse (resulting in the use of CPR). The AED will detect a heart rhythm and determine if a shock is required once the pads are put in place. The AED device will also notify the users to continue CPR as well.
  • Inquiring: Ask staff what training credentials they have and how they might assist you if something were to occur. (All CCR staff are certified in standard first aid and Level C CPR, with many additionally trained in Mental Health First Aid.)
  • Participating: Get certified in standard first aid, CPR and AED through CCR. This team is fully equipped to deliver training to individuals or employee groups.

Training is important

Though CCR staff may work in a high risk environment, a serious incidents can occur anywhere on campus and being able to act in ways that reflect the health and safety needs of our campus community is critical. “It's part of a caring community: It’s caring about others, taking an initiative to actively learn health and safety skills and sharing the knowledge you're learning with others so that everyone can contribute to keeping each other healthy and safe, wherever they may be on campus. The impact of having trained staff across our diverse campus communities reflects a safer, more responsive campus, well-equipped to mitigate emergencies from escalating.” 

Attaining Standard First Aid, CPR and AED certifications (or re-certifications) may be optional for most U of A employees, but the mere hours it takes to complete training can benefit an individual and their family and friends for years. Obtaining this particular training is an exemplary demonstration of your commitment to those around you and ensures every member of our campus community goes home safely


Employees and students can register for CPR certification and/or Standard First Aid certification through Campus & Community Recreation.