Despite planning and good health, it’s a nightmare scenario that can unfold for anyone: a fall in your own kitchen. An accident while exercising outdoors. Chest pain on the way to your car. Whether it’s a stroke, heart attack or major accident, health issues can strike anyone at any time— and minutes can mean heart damage, brain damage or even the difference between life and death.
One group of volunteers at the Del Webb Ponte Vedra community is working together to make safety a priority, and to respond to emergencies as soon as possible. The Del Webb Emergency Response Team (ERT) is a group of residents trained and certified in basic first aid, CPR and automated electronic defibrillator (AED) use.
“In an emergency, we want the first call to be to 911,” said ERT president Susan Schjelderup. “The second call should be to us.”
There are currently 68 members in the organization, with more waiting on training in order to join. Each member signs up to volunteer for at least one 24-hour period a month in teams of two. During their shift, the volunteers have supplies such as the club’s AED as well as one of two cell phones. When a resident dials the ERT hotline, a volunteer is always there to answer.
The team’s mission statement is “to train, equip and maintain a team of volunteers who can respond to medical and injury-related emergencies within the community of Del Webb Ponte Vedra after 911 has been called, or provide first aid if the ill or injured person declines 911 assistance.”
Volunteers respond to any call for assistance within Del Webb borders, whether it’s responding to an emergency in someone’s home or an accident on the community’s pickleball courts.
“The Del Webb ERT provides a valuable service to their community,” said St. Johns County Fire Chief Carl Shank. Shank and the county have supported the ERT’s efforts through free training for volunteers. The support points to the fact that despite the community’s proximity to the new Nocatee fire station, there is no guarantee that the staff will be available to respond immediately to calls from Del Webb.
“Emergencies don’t happen one at a time,” Shank said.
Volunteer Ned Billings explained that the team was founded about two years ago when one of the founders of the ERT had a heart attack while playing pickleball. He had to wait 35 minutes before 911 arrived, and another 25 minutes before he got to the hospital. Response times have improved with the new fire station — but there is never a total guarantee of safety.
“The Fire Station paramedics are highly professional and absolutely committed to getting to us as quickly as possible,” said Schjelderup. “One of the challenges that we have is that people think that because we now have the fire station here, they assume that help will be there in under two or three minutes. But there are times when they are at the furthest end of the county or even perhaps in Duval County because they have reciprocal relationships.”
That is when the ERT’s role is most critical. Billings and Schjelderup said that other neighborhoods could benefit from a similar volunteer group.
“As far as we know, we are the only ones in Nocatee that have done this,” Schjelderup said. To join the Del Webb ERT or for guidance on founding a response team in your own neighborhood, contact Susan Schjelerup at firstname.lastname@example.org