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Feeling poorly at Triennium? The guys in red T-shirts are here to help

Southern California firefighters share their skills and kindness with sick or hurt attendees

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Volunteer paramedic Chad Stewart changes the dressing on a scraped shin. Four Southern California firefighters spend a week at Triennium taking care of attendees and the adults who accompany them. In the back is Suzanne Stewart, Chad’s wife, who manages the first aid operation. (Photo by Rich Copley)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — Every three years, a hardy band of Southern California firefighters trained to provide medical care and share a comforting word takes a week of vacation to serve the medical needs of more than 4,000 Triennium attendees.

Four paramedics or emergency medical technicians are on call 24/7 during the five days of Triennium to treat scrapes, blisters, sprains, fevers, sunburn, anxiety, exhaustion — and other maladies that can befall high school students a long way from home. Dressed in red T-shirts with “Got Hurt?” on the front, a takeoff on the old “Got Milk?” campaign, the volunteers are good-natured, friendly and caring — everything you’d expect from longtime firefighters, which they are.

One morning this week, Chad Stewart, a firefighter and paramedic with the Huntington Beach Fire Department, changed the dressing on a scraped shin. Nikelle Johnson, the Christian educator at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Mich., who had accompanied Libby W. to the first aid station, was impressed.

“We were certainly glad to hear we have a place to go that’s this convenient,” Johnson said. “And it was fast, too.”

Stewart, who’s here with his wife, Suzanne, the manager of the first aid station, said he and his volunteer colleagues — Alan Smith, Drew DiPaola and Kyle Ferguson — are at Triennium in part to reduce the number of 911 calls. The four care providers can readily differentiate cases they can handle with those that require an ambulance and hospital treatment.

“Our purpose is to take the pressure off (the local) fire department,” Stewart said, “and to make sure everyone is healthy.”

“And to be honest,” he said with a grin, “we have a good time doing it.”

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians volunteering at Triennium are well-prepared to offer treatment to people who need help. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Smith is a retired Anaheim Fire and Rescue firefighter who’s now a part-time firefighter with the Disney Fire Department at Disneyland. His wife, Lissa Smith, is pastor at Canyon Hills Presbyterian Church in Anaheim.

The 2019 Triennium is Smith’s 10th time comforting and providing first aid to attendees and, from time to time, the adults who accompany them. Stewart is an alum of the youth group at the Canyon Hills church.

“I am a glass-half-full kind of guy,” Smith said. “I benefited from my youth group experience, and I think it’s good to help students when they are not doing well, to help them see there is a good future ahead, that there can be a good outcome to a bad situation. We are there to make their bad time a little better. We tell students they matter and they are important.”

When they receive a call for help, a team of two firefighters hop on a golf cart to find the person in need. Most calls are fairly routine, but on occasion first responders are stumped. One Triennium attendee had part of her earring stuck in her earlobe. Triennium first responders determined she’d require medical assistance they could not provide.

From time to time, exhausted or distressed Triennium youth report to the first aid station simply in need of a couple hours of quiet rest. Purdue University provided the crew with beds and linens to help meet the need.

“Some kids just get homesick,” Smith said. “They come here, take a two-hour nap or play with some games or puzzles and they’re fine. Sometimes we will offer them advice and they’ll listen to us when they won’t listen to mom or dad.”

“I’m a little surprised they keep having us back,” he added with a laugh. “I enjoy it a lot, and to spend time here with my friends every three years is above and beyond. We love doing this, and spending time with these people every three years — it’s like a family reunion.”

Make sure to follow PYT on social media on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to be up to date on all of the Triennium excitement. The official event hashtag is #PYT2019.

Presbyterian Youth Triennium is a gathering for high school age youth from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church that occurs every three years. The 2019 event runs through July 20 at Purdue University. The theme for the 2019 event is “Here’s My Heart.” The Presbyterian Youth Triennium is supported by your gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

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