CPR classes give local residents better chance to survive heart attack

Paramedic Frank Gibbons (left) and firefighter Mike McGinnis demonstrate proper CPR technique. -
Paramedic Frank Gibbons (left) and firefighter Mike McGinnis demonstrate proper CPR technique.
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By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald

"Any call I've been on where there's been a good outcome, a citizen has provided CPR," firefighter Mike McGinnis said. McGinnis has also been the program manager for the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) program for eight of the 11 years he has worked for East Pierce Fire & Rescue.

According to McGinnis, a person suffering a cardiac event in Bonney Lake is more likely than average to be assisted by a citizen providing CPR. As a result, survival rates are around 15 percent, compared to a national average of just 5 to 7 percent. "Kudos go to the training program," Russ McCallion, assistant chief of medical services at East Pierce Fire & Rescue said. "But also to FireComm dispatchers, who can guide you over the phone."

Eight years ago, East Pierce instituted a program to teach eighth-grade health class students how to provide CPR. "In the past few years, we have trained over 1,000 students annually," McGinnis said. "And that's probably a low estimate."

McGinnis also teaches a free CPR class the third Saturday of every month at the station. The four-hour class includes adult and child CPR. He said that an important part of the program is "recognizing a heart attack early so you might never have to do CPR." The American Heart Association recommends taking a refresher course every two years. The department will also organize special classes for interested groups, such as scouts, local employees and civic organizations. Last month, McGinnis taught a group of recreational vehicle enthusiasts who called about a class. East Pierce also offers a four-hour First Aid module on request.

When a person has a heart attack, time is of the essence. Unfortunately, precious time is often wasted by victims who deny they are in trouble. During a heart attack, a portion of the heart muscle is dying. Depending on the location and extent, this could lead to cardiac arrest, where the heart is no longer pumping blood to the brain. Brain damage can occur in less than six minutes. McCallion recommends calling 9-1-1 as soon as a heart attack is suspected. Response times for emergency crews are between four and six minutes, he said. By the time the call is placed, an emergency crew is dispatched, drives to the location, finds the patient, unpacks equipment and begins treatment, life-saving minutes have been lost. "When the heart and breathing stops, the clock starts," he said.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be performed on patients who have gone into cardiac arrest. It will not restart the heart, but it does increase chances of survival and slow brain damage by forcing oxygenated blood to the brain. A defibrillator can restart the heart by sending an electrical charge that can "shock" the heart into beating on its own.

CPR is valuable in many situations, not just heart attacks, McGinnis said. CPR can save individuals suffering from drowning, electric shock, choking, drug overdose and smoke inhalation -- anything that can cause individuals to stop breathing.

Key factors for improving the survival rate of a sudden cardiac arrest include:

1. Recognizing the emergency

Heart attack victims are often in a state of denial, refusing to recognize that this is a potentially life-threatening emergency. In fact, half of all heart attack victims never call for emergency assistance, McCallion said, choosing instead to have a friend or family member drive them to the hospital.

2. Calling 9-1-1

Phone first and phone fast. If a heart attack is suspected, call 9-1-1 for help immediately. That way, if the person having a heart attack goes into cardiac arrest, help is already on the way.

3. Starting CPR

If the person has gone into cardiac arrest, start CPR immediately. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart is no longer beating properly. The person is unconscious and not breathing. CPR helps keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain, buying time until the heart can be shocked using a defibrillator. Anyone who does not know CPR, or has not taken a class in the last two years, can contact the fire department at 253-863-1800 or visit their Web site at

4. Using a defibrillator as soon as possible

Despite portrayals on the TV and in movies, CPR won't restart the heart. A defibrillator delivers an electrical charge, restarting the heart's own system. The sooner a defibrillator can be used to restart the heart, the better the chances for a positive outcome.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at

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