Safeway Produce Clerk Austin Bergstrom knew something was wrong with regular customer Penny Maier.
“She wasn’t acting right, so I kept an eye on her,” he said.
When he saw her collapse, he realized he was the only employee in the area. Fortunately, he knew what to do. As a Boy Scout, Bergstrom, 17, had been trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He ran to the Customer Service desk and told them to call 911. Returning to Maier, he began CPR.
On March 19, Maier had a chance to formally thank Bergstrom for saving her life that day. At a packed meeting of the East Pierce Fire and Rescue Board of Fire Commissioners, Maier hugged Bergstrom and called him “my angel.”
“God wanted him there for me,” she said.
“It still gives me the chills to think of it,” she told the commissioners and an audience that included Bergstrom’s family, most of his Boy Scout troop and the emergency responders who were first to arrive on scene that day.
During the meeting, East Pierce Fire Chief Jerry E. Thorson presented Bergstrom with a Good Samaritan Award for his courage and composure under pressure.
“Your actions and ability to recognize an emergency, instruct others to call 911 and perform quality CPR, allowed emergency responders to make the most out of a difficult situation,” Thorson said of Bergstrom. “Your selfless actions in providing comfort and life-saving medical assistance to a critically-ill patient in cardiac arrest reflect the true meaning of being a Good Samaritan.”
Often, cardiac arrest survivability depends on citizens who know what to do in an emergency. Safeway Store Manager Kevin Jones notes that the people around Maier told Bergstrom not to touch her, suggesting he wait for help to arrive.
“But he knew enough to ignore them,” he said.
Bergstrom agreed. “I knew time was of the essence,” he said.
According to East Pierce Battalion Chief Jeff Moore, for every one minute of delay in starting CPR on someone in cardiac arrest, the chance of survival falls by 10 percent. “Bystander CPR doubles a victim’s chance of survival,” Moore said.
Fortunately for Maier, Bergstrom did everything right.
To help ensure that the public is trained in CPR, East Pierce Fire teaches training and certification classes to more than 2,000 people annually, including 1,500 eighth- and tenth-grade students throughout the district. This effort has resulted in a 50 percent bystander CPR rate for witnessed collapses.
“It’s a remarkable rate compared to the rest of the country,” Moore said. “In our area, a citizen trained in CPR responds to a person who collapses in cardiac arrest five out of ten times.”
Bergstrom said the experience was life-changing for him. He plans to graduate as a junior from Todd Beamer High School this year, and then attend college to become a firefighter.
“Hopefully, I’ll have my Eagle Scout by the end of the month,” he said.
And what of his job at Safeway?
“I’m hoping for a promotion,” he said.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue offers American Heart Association-approved CPR and first aid classes twice a month. Citizens who wish to learn CPR—but don’t need a certification card for work—can take a free, one-hour “Hands-only CPR” course.
The course focuses on essential life-saving CPR skills for adult victims and recognition of heart attack and strokes.
Both classes are offered at the East Pierce Fire & Rescue headquarters station in Bonney Lake. A free, Hands-only CPR class can be scheduled for groups in the district, such as homeowners associations, church groups, or businesses that can assemble 10 or more citizens.
For more information about CPR classes, contact East Pierce Fire and Rescue at 253-863-1800, during business hours or go to the fire department’s website at www.eastpiercefire.org.