Nearly 1,000 people spent some time in the parking lot at the mall today, kneeling on red mats outside the Princess Cruises building at the mall and watching a crew of white disco-suited dancers cavort on a portable stage to the Bee Gees classic “Stayin’ Alive.”
Some of them even joined in the dancing.
The firefighters lining the perimeter of the mats just smiled.
The crowds – groups of 30 or so people that changed every half-hour – were there to learn “CPRA” or CPR Anytime. A grant from the Princess Cruises Community Foundation provided 1,000 spots for those who wanted to expand their first-response knowledge; 500 of the spots went to company employees and the rest were offered to community leaders, school administrators, company managers, elected officials, non-profit executive leaders and city commissioners, with some spots offered to the general public as the day progressed.
This method of providing first aid when someone is in cardiac distress involves using chest compressions only (no breathing and no mouth-to-mouth) may remove the hesitation some people feel when faced with an emergency.
The two-step process is simple. If you see a teen or adult collapse, call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest to the beat of the popular disco song. At that beat, the compressions can more than double or triple a person’s chance of survival.
Learning CPRA is critical because sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death. Nearly 400,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the United States. Eighty-nine percent of people who suffer an out-of hospital cardiac arrest die because they don’t receive immediate CPR from someone on the scene. And the American Heart Association said that 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they don’t know how to administer CPR or they’re afraid of hurting the victim.
The training was a team effort of the City of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County Fire and the American Heart Association and Anthem Blue Cross, with financial support from the Princess Cruises Community Foundation. A few dozen firefighters were on hand to check on technique as the students leaned forward over their Mini Anne “victims” to practice their compression.
With their arms locked straight, fingers laced and palms pushed downward, many of the students were surprised at how much strength it took to achieve a small “click” from the manikin. Firefighters helped with positioning and technique, the cadence of the compressions was as easy as the 4/4 time of the song.
But it was still nice to get that pat on the shoulder and “good job” from the first responders.
The point of teaching this simplified method of CPR is to spread the word – literally. Organizers asked the students to tell their friends through social networking, e-mail, chatter in the office or with friends – and train at least 10 people, whether they took the information back to their offices or shared it with youth groups or clubs or just their neighbors.
This form of CPR is also helpful, even without the rescue breathing, because it circulates the oxygenated blood already in a victim’s chest. One firefighter said that without this help, the brain begins to die in 4 or 5 minutes.
Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum was pleased with the amount of participants and hoped they would tell their friends.
“What’s critical is when a heart attack is suffered and 80 percent of those are usually in the home, witnessed by at least one family member, if they can start CPR immediately after calling 911,” he said. “Those few minutes of doing CPR as they are being taught here today will increase the survivability of these patients a great degree and that is what we’re really excited about. What’s really important for us is that it’s really a simple technique and people can learn it and carry it with them for life.”
Santa Clarita is the first city in Los Angeles County to adopt the CPRA training (it was given to city lifeguards earlier in the summer) and spread the word via public gatherings. Niccum said that he hopes the instruction will someday get into elementary school classrooms.
“There’s 40,000 fifth graders in Los Angeles County,” he explained. “We’re hoping to be able to fund and develop programs similar to this and teach it in the classroom and – we haven’t discussed this with the school districts yet – but what we’re hoping is that each of these students will take their kits home and teach 10 siblings, parents, family relatives or friends and then bring that roster back for possible extra credit.”
Princess Cruises offered the training to 500 of its employees and many of them turned out for the first session of the day, including Karianne Schmidt and Jericho Fenner.
“We have a new nephew coming into the family soon, I figured it was a good skill to learn,” said Fenner.
Schmidt said that she had previously worked as a phlebotomist and was certified in traditional CPR already, but wanted to take this class to “see if there’s anything new.”
“It’s a good skill to know,” she said. “Both of our fathers are firefighters, so it’s in our blood. I’m going to try and get all my family that hasn’t already learned CPR to learn this. You never know, it doesn’t hurt to know what to do in any situation.”
In this reporter’s case, I agree. You never know when someone around you is going to need those skills, even when they’re on the air.
For more information on “Stayin’ Alive” and the CPRA program, go to www.heart.org.