While students made plans for this years’ "throwback" Spring Fling, Penn's Medical Emergency Response Team prepared for what MERT Chief David Gordon calls its “busiest weekend.”
MERT is assisted by members of Fling Safe, a group of students who volunteer to take a patrol shift during the Spring Fling festival to make sure that there aren’t any students in need of medical attention. While students in Fling Safe were not trained EMTs, they were taught how, and when, to get MERT involved. Members of Fling Safe do not patrol during the Fling concert.
Although Fling is only one day this year, about the same number of people were selected to join Fling Safe as in previous years when Fling lasted two days. According to Social Planning and Events Committee President Austin Borja, this means that each two-hour shift will have more students than in previous years.
Twenty-five students were transported to the hospital during 2016 Spring Fling for alcohol-related incidents. While the majority of students were sent to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, some students were sent to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.
According to Gordon, MERT is able to decrease the number of students who are transported to local hospitals because students can be monitored in MERT’s observation area within Penn Park, where Fling was held this year. In the observation area, MERT volunteers care for students who are not feeling well without necessarily sending them to the hospital.
During a training session led by SPEC, MERT, and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives, students learned how to call for help and what they can do until MERT arrives.
Borja said that Fling Safe is not “a police at all for the people who are having fun at Fling,” but instead is “a way to make sure that they are safe and if they do need help, then we can direct them to where the help is.”
The need for Fling Safe goes beyond students’ excessive drinking and partying, some say.
“If you’re out having fun, not in your dorm room, you might forget something, like to just drink water,” said Borja, citing dehydration and heat stroke as potential problems for students participating in Fling.
Members of Fling Safe receive a free Fling concert ticket in exchange for their help. Borja said this adds a “financial aid” incentive to students who otherwise may not be able to afford a ticket to Fling.
Many students also have a more personal reason for volunteering. “A lot of people have more personal stories as to how they, or maybe a friend or a peer, have felt unsafe during Fling … but then they had someone from Fling Safe help them,” Borja said.
Borja continued that people who are selected for Fling Safe generally have a “combination” of personal and financial reasons.
According to Gordon, Fling Safe was started about seven years ago “in partnership with University administration and [the Office of] Alcohol and Other Drugs.”
Gordon said he believes that Fling Safe is an example of “students helping students,” as people in Fling Safe can approach their peers to help while also having backup from MERT if need be.
“I would say that [Spring Fling] is definitely our busiest time but it is also a time when [MERT is] of great value,” Gordon said.