Preparing to clean a grill in the school cafeteria's kitchen, Cheryl Rockhill shook the bottle of industrial cleaner vigorously. When its cap popped off and cold liquid splashed in her face, surprise instantly turned to pain as her eyes began to burn. The cap had not been put on tightly by its previous user.
Rockhill is a school and bus monitor and president of the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association. She spoke at a workshop on first aid for transportation staff during the recent School-Related Professionals Leadership Conference in Albany.
Participants shared stories of first aid experiences as well as the myriad unexpected issues SRPs may encounter during their workday. SRPs work with students, educators and other staff in multiple locations and in dozens of job titles within a school setting, so the list of participant concerns was extensive: allergies, asthma, choking, diabetes, exposure, feeding tubes, strokes and seizures.
"I worry about heat exhaustion," said Christopher Hortsman, who has been a school bus driver for seven years. "Our buses can get up to 110–115 degrees." Hortsman knows how hot his bus can get: the drivers in his district put clocks with thermometers on their buses. "We're advocating for air conditioners."
Hortsman is president of the Ithaca City School District Employees Association. He and Rockhill serve on the NYSUT SRP Advisory Committee. His district is making strides in lowering temperatures via the purchase of buses with tinted windows and white tops, which reflect heat, he said. He and other drivers still carry cold bottled water on their buses during the hot months of the school year. "We don't want students to get dehydrated."
Prevention is key, noted Michael Lohman, assistant director for the American Federation of Teachers health and safety program, who led the first aid workshop. "The first thing you need to do is protect yourself."
Lohman led the SRPs through the paces of many basic first aid treatments, including how to safely remove gloves. "Before you respond to a first aid situation, protect yourself from possible contamination," Lohman reiterated.
Participants learned how to use an EpiPen, recognize signs of a stroke, handle choking and chemical burns, how and when to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, how to handle seizures, stop bleeding and treat heat exhaustion, as well as procedures for handling many other situations.
Rockhill's experience was almost 10 years ago when she worked in a school cafeteria, but she remembers the details vividly. Fortunately, there were two school employees nearby who were also Emergency Medical Technicians. After 20 minutes of on-site flushing Rockhill went to the hospital to continue treatment.
An emergency situation may also come at an emotional cost for those involved, as Rockhill can attest. "The healing process was excruciating," and took several weeks, eye drops and medication.
"It is not unusual to have a latent reaction to trauma," said NYSUT Social Services Specialist Ani Shahinian. NYSUT Social Services provides personal consultations and referrals to members and their families for times when someone is struggling through a personal crisis or trauma. For assistance, call 800-342-9810, ext. 6206.
"When it first happened, I thought 'no biggie.' But it was a biggie," said Rockhill. "If not for the help of my two friends and co-workers, I could have lost an eye," she said.
First Aid tips
- Protect yourself before helping others. Have non-latex gloves available, check frequently to ensure they are still in good condition, and practice donning and doffing methods. Visit www.nysut.org/healthandsafety to see a video on proper technique. The disposable gloves should fit — too small and they can break, too large and they may slip off, leaving you open to contamination. If gloves are not available use another barrier, such as "a plastic bag," Lohman advised. Finally, wash your hands after removing gloves.
- Never try to do more than what you were taught. Remember, you are only there to assist someone until medical personnel arrive.
- Put the phone number for Poison Control (800-222-1222) in your mobile phone contacts and write the number next to your landline phone.
- If you have been trained in first aid, be sure to introduce yourself to the person you are helping and let them know you have been trained.