Call to Action: Tribulations of student emergency responders

Superheroes, whether on the big screen or in comic panels, often lead dual lives, delicately balancing their personal and professional responsibilities. Clark Kent is a reporter for the Daily Planet when he’s not out saving lives as Superman. Tom Holland’s iteration of Peter Parker is just a regular high schooler before a call to action requires him to don the persona of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. 

Just like superheroes, there are individuals who respond to these calls to action—albeit without the colorful costumes. Rather than donning a cape, student emergency responders are trained to drop everything when a sudden crisis arises. Split into various specializations such as fire and medical responders, students can train to be adept in more than one job, finding a balance between serving others and attending to personal pursuits, like academics.

Carlo Gonzales and Francis Borromeo are students first and foremost; but when duty calls, they rise to the occasion—devoting their time and risking their lives as officers of the Radio/Rescue Emergency Assistance Volunteer Organization’s Cebu chapter. 

Student by day; responder by night

Borromeo, who is currently a Grade 11 STEM student from Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, has always wanted to show how the youth can help keep the community safe. “[The work we do] shows the commitment, interest, and dedication [we have],” he affirms, recounting how often he and his fellow medical responders had to always be ready to rush to the site of the emergency. 

Being a student emergency responder is undoubtedly a large responsibility, tasked to balance their academics with their duties as emergency responders.

“I am constantly trying to juggle my academics [and] doing my passion,” Borromeo shares. Being an emergency responder also means that one’s schedule is never fixed as the call to action could come at any time.

Meanwhile, Gonzales, a first-year Nursing student at Velez College, initially showed little interest in being part of an emergency response team. Now an officer who handles emergency fire and medical concerns, he takes great care to meticulously fulfill his duties.

“I decided to [undergo] training for six months, until I became an official member of [the] Don Bosco Emergency Response Team [back then],” Gonzales recalls, adding that he was immediately assigned as student chairman in his previous response team after he finished training. He then continued to hone his skills by managing the group and attending to medical emergencies after.

Above and beyond

“No two calls are exactly the same,” Borromeo highlights, explaining that each emergency scenario presents their own set of difficulties. From putting out fires to providing emergency medical services at festivals, responders treat every situation with an equal sense of urgency, understanding just how vital their services are.

Gonzales recounts being part of an ambulance crew and responding to a call coming in just as he and his crewmates were taking a breather—jumping right back into the fray after having just returned to the station from another incident. 

“All of a sudden, the dispatcher told us that there was a possible ‘no pulse’ and ‘no breathing’ case somewhere [near] the station,” Gonzales recalls. Forgoing their chance at respite, the group immediately sprung into action, rushing to the scene where they found a mother and her unconscious infant. 

As Gonzales would later realize, emergency responders have other responsibilities apart from their primary duty of providing medical aid. “It was my first time experiencing something like that, witnessing [a patient] who wasn’t breathing, with the mother crying on the side as paramedics tried to revive the patient,” he recounts. “I [tried to] comfort [the mother] because I couldn’t imagine how painful it was seeing her daughter [in that state].” 

He further discloses that providing emotional support—comforting patients and their distressed family members—was an aspect of the job he hadn’t initially considered, yet emergency responders importantly need to be empathetic and considerate of the people they help. 

The job also entails safety concerns. Anything could happen out in the field; emergency responders, professionals and volunteers alike, risk life and limb while on duty. Gonzales attests to this, having witnessed firefighters extinguishing roaring flames. “As I watched the scene [play out], [seeing] how [the] firefighters worked to put out the fire, you can say that type of job is not easy, and that it poses a huge threat to their safety,” he says. 

Passion to serve

Despite the risks and challenges associated with the job, Gonzales and Borromeo continue to be driven by their passion to serve their community. “The urge to help other people is one of the motivators for me to continue serving,” Gonzales notes, adding that he trained specifically to help save lives. Borromeo feels the same way, expressing, “Knowing that I can make a difference in someone else’s life, and that what I do is productive to society [is motivating].” 

Despite receiving no financial compensation, the knowledge that these student volunteers played a role in saving lives is a reward in and of itself. “We don’t expect anything in return,” Borromeo explains. “A simple thank you [already] makes it so rewarding and fulfilling [because it] lets me know that what I’m doing is worth it.” 

For those aspiring to become modern day superheroes like these emergency responders, Gonzales warns that the job is not easy. “The secret to [being a good student emergency responder]…[is that] you must know how to balance your time very well,” he states. 

“You have to constantly review your dedication and commitment in what you do in order to do your job best and truly make a difference,” Borromeo echoes.

These daunting aspects of the role are not meant to scare away those interested in becoming emergency responders, but rather Gonzales and Borromeo want to spur on those who believe that they can rise to the occasion and be of service to others. These emergency responders, and other selfless individuals, are an upstanding reminder that not all heroes wear capes.

Angelo Emmanuel Fernandez

By Angelo Emmanuel Fernandez

William Ong

By William Ong

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