The Friends of 108 club at St. Thomas College is an initiative that provides training in emergency medical aid.

One day, S. Prakash, who is an assistant Professor with St. Thomas College Chennai, happened to see a motorbike accident. After calling for the ambulance, the people had to wait for a good half an hour before it arrived. In the meantime, they got worried and wanted to carry the victim into an autorickshaw. Prakash says, “I had to persuade them to wait, because I recognised that moving the victim could be dangerous.” He attributes his knowledge to his interaction with the emergency medical care professionals of 108, as the ambulance service is popularly known, and the first aid training they have imparted.

The GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (108) which runs the famous 108 — free ambulance services — in 12 States, has started a club called, Friends of 108. This is a free-of-cost and voluntary club activity for college students and faculty which trains first responders to act quickly in an emergency.

How it began

In 2009, in a meeting of the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, Prakash and his friends, who were in the final year of B.Sc. then, were volunteering for the red ribbon club, a collective to help HIV-affected people. With B. Prabhudoss, Regional Manager of 108, they came up with the idea of a mobile medical unit that would function on New Year’s eve to help accident victims. Following this, on December 31, 2010, in collaboration with the police and 108 ambulance, they arranged for 10 volunteers to be stationed in 10 different junctions of Chennai city. This proved so successful that the next year they had 32 volunteers, this time covering the suburbs of Chennai as well.

Encouraged by the response, Prakash and friends spoke to Mr. Prabhudoss about teaching first aid as a regular club activity in college. Thus was born the Friends of 108 club for final-year UG students in St. Thomas College. Inaugurated on January 6, 2012, this club includes women members too, unlike the mobile medical unit programme which has only male volunteers.

In the meantime, Prakash passed out of college after his M.Sc. and returned as an Assistant Professor. He has kept his involvement in the new-year’s-eve mobile medical unit and helps in organising the Friends of 108 club. Like him, other former students have continued to participate every year. There are 100 members of Friends of 108.

The club organises demonstrations by 108 faculty on first aid and understanding the ambulance: members of the club are taught to use the apparatus kept in the ambulance such as the wheel chair or collapsible stretcher. The training is at a basic level where they can be of assistance to trained Emergency Medical Technicians.

Says Dr. Adeline Dhivya Israel, head emergency medicine learning centre, 108, Chennai, “We also teach people to recognise the situation and respond correctly. This is important, for instance, if someone has a spine injury or has fallen from a high building, the first responder must know how not to carry them.”

In the curriculum

“It would be a good idea to introduce first aid training as an additional programme to the humanities and science courses. Students should be able to take this course and gain credits or a certificate which would help them academically,” says a senior official of the Higher Education department, Government of Tamil Nadu.108, Tamil Nadu, headquartered at Chennai, is eager to set up Friends of 108 clubs in colleges, and interested colleges could get in touch with them.

Unforgettable

K. Saranraj, a student volunteer, had an unforgettable experience. He had to give up attending the New Year’s Eve mass in Church on December 31, 2011, in order to go on the night’s vigil. With great difficulty he convinced his mother and went to his station at Kathipara junction. That night he helped a motor cyclist who had a head injury. It was providential!

“Being able to help people in trouble is what makes this so important for me,” he says when asked about the Friends of 108 club.

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