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Acquiring a skill you hope you never need

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, September 7, 2013

So far, it’s just a card in my wallet.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went through a CPR/AED training session at the Decatur Fire Department – renewing our certification to keep it current.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Firefighter Joe Boyd taught us, working through a video and pausing at key points to talk us through the particulars and answer questions. We each had a practice dummy of our own and were able to refresh our techniques “hands-on” under his watchful eye.

When we finished and paid our fee, he printed out a card, and we walked out re-certified for two years.

It’s a skill I’m proud to have. I’ll be even prouder if I never need to use it.

CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation – is a technique of chest compression and breathing designed to keep a person alive if they have stopped breathing or their heart has stopped beating.

The subjects of CPR are most often heart attack victims, although it can be used on anyone who needs it, for any reason.

The technique has evolved in a good direction since I first learned it in Boy Scouts.

From working so hard to teach people exactly where on the sternum to put your hands, how to hold them, how hard and how often to push, and of course, the airway-clearing, nose-pinching, head-tilting and breathing involved in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it has become simpler.

What they found was that, if people think it’s too complicated, they freeze. If they think putting their mouth on someone else’s mouth is icky, they freeze. They’re so afraid of doing something wrong that they don’t do anything.

CPR by itself has about a 15 percent success rate, Decatur Fire Chief Mike Richardson said.

In a community with trained citizens, skilled first responders, dedicated ambulance carriers and trained hospital personnel, that success rate can go as high as 35 percent.

That means that in the best-case scenario, about 65 percent of the people who need and get CPR still die.

But if you do nothing, that number goes to 100 percent.

If someone is not breathing or their heart has stopped beating, their life’s clock is ticking down very quickly unless someone helps them.

Our publisher, Roy Eaton, as a volunteer firefighter did perform CPR on a heart attack victim a couple of decades ago. The man didn’t make it, but Roy and others took turns working on him, trying to keep him alive until the ambulance got there.

“It was just right down the street,” he said. “I rushed down there, and a Decatur police officer, Gary Hudson, was there already giving CPR. He and I both gave CPR and maybe another fireman stepped in, but it was just too late. It was so sad because we knew the man.

“But the training kicked in, instantly,” he added. “We were all volunteers, but we took that training seriously.”

In those days, AEDs were only in hospitals, only used by trained physicians.

The AED, Automated External Defibrillator, is a device that administers an electric shock to a heart attack victim and can “re-start” the heart to its proper rhythm. In our training with Decatur, for the first time we got hands-on experience with one of those.

A few years ago, the only place a heart got shocked back into rhythm was a hospital. Now, AEDs are located in most public buildings, schools and many businesses and churches. All have an automated voice that tells you what to do, with pads you stick on the patient and sensors that determine whether a shock is needed and administer it after the voice tells you to get clear.

A couple of years ago an AED saved the life of a junior high football player in a nearby city.

Like CPR training, it’s another tool in your tool bag.

The Decatur Fire Department offers classes every third Saturday of the month for the public – but Chief Richardson said anyone who wants the training can call and inquire, and they will do their best to set it up.

“There’s almost always an instructor here,” he said. “If local people call us and say, ‘I’ve got a need at this specific time…’ as long as we’ve got the room open, we’ll schedule it. We think it’s that important.”

Richardson, who has been a paramedic since 1985 and was an EMT for several years before that, says his department has presented a few “Lifesaver” awards.

“Certainly, you have tons and tons of losses,” he said. “But it’s those wins that keep you doing it.

“A lot of times, if somebody is doing CPR when you roll up on the scene, it improves your chances,” he said. “It’s based obviously on how long they were down, but how quick somebody did CPR is a huge factor. Many times we’ve gotten responses using advanced protocols because when we arrived, people were doing CPR.”

The Decatur Fire Department isn’t the only agency that offers CPR training. No matter who you call, I would encourage you to call today, set up the training and get yourself a card that says you have a skill you hope you never need.

“I’m sure I could do it today,” Roy said. “I might not be doing it right, but it stays with you.”

If more of us learn it, more of us will get to stay, too.

Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.

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