Brooklyn Boro

Learning to save a life with online lessons, practice dummies and talking defibrillators

May 21, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charlotte Wells, a resident of Manhattan, practices saving a choking infant on a practice dummy known as Little Anne at a Red Cross CPR /first aid /AED class on Friday. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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If a sleep-deprived Brooklyn journalist can learn to save a life, anybody can.

Early Friday morning, this reporter was gulping down tankards of green tea in a losing bid to fend off sleep following two all-nighters. There was nothing more appealing at that moment than the thought of a cozy bed (or even a sleeping bag filled with rocks).

But I was booked for a training session with the Red Cross to relearn CPR and basic first aid, and find out about something called AED. I had already taken the three-hour, online course which walked me through simulated emergencies, like entering the produce section of a store and finding a worker lying unconscious next to the avocados, or helping an elementary school teacher who had sprained his wrist.

So even though I was only half conscious, I didn’t want to miss the hands-on part of the training.  I also figured that pumping hard on the chest of a life-sized practice dummy would probably keep me awake long enough to cross the finish line.

I joined my fellow students in an oversized conference room on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan where I met Mel (she doesn’t want her last name used), the emergency medical technician / teacher who would be conducting the day’s class, and about a dozen students. Mel had already lined up adult and pediatric dummies and knee pads in front of each chair. She kindly pointed me towards the coffee and handed out CPR masks, and then we started.

The class was divided into sections, each of which included brief and practical comments by Mel, short videos, and hands-on practice on the adult dummies known by the name Resusci Anne (modeled on a real, unidentified young woman who drowned more than 100 years ago) and the infant dummies known as Little Anne.

I was surprised to learn that, though the American Heart Association changed its CPR guidelines so mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is no longer a training requirement, the Red Cross is still recommending giving two rescue breaths after every 30 chest compressions.

This requirement may be updated soon, Mel said — adding that if we felt reluctant to put our mouth on a stranger’s mouth (if he’s hacking something up, for example), it’s perfectly fine to just do the chest compressions.


AEDs Explained

I had seen AED (Automated External Defibrillator) boxes hanging in restaurants and other venues but had no idea how they worked. Being in a near-zombie state, I was frankly a little worried about missing some crucial instructions and electrocuting someone.

Luckily, it took only two minutes to learn a few basic details, like where to stick the paddles on the dummy’s chest. After pushing the “on” button, the AED itself actually tells you what to do — yes, they talk.

This conference room soon filled with the cacophony of babbling AEDs giving commands like “Deliver shock now,” and “Stand clear.” Pressing the orange button to zap the dummy back to life was oddly satisfying.

Why You Should Do This

One of the big take-home messages of the class was that the sooner the “survival chain” starts, the better the chance of saving someone’s life. When it comes to heart attacks, for example, each minute of delay takes away a 10 percent chance that the victim will survive. A five-minute delay cuts their odds to 50-50, and increases the chance of long-term damage.

The same idea of taking quick action holds true for someone bleeding out of a severe wound or in a diabetic coma.

On average, it takes an ambulance nine minutes and 20 seconds to respond to an emergency in New York City, according to Mel. This means that the everyday person — even an exhausted reporter with not-so-great skills — is the most crucial link in the survival chain, as long as they start giving care right away.

When large numbers of people are trained in CPR and basic first aid, the emergency medical system is all around us.

It’s easy to sign up for a CPR / first aid /AED class. The Red Cross offers classes on a regular basis across the city.  Go to and click “Take a Class.”

You’ll have the option to choose from online or in-person courses, or take a blended Simulation Learning class that combines online learning with hands-on, in-person instruction. (That’s the one I took and I recommend it highly.)

In addition, the New York City Fire Department gives free Bystander CPR classes citywide. These classes teach compression-only CPR. See and click “CPR to Go Classes.”

Other NYC organizations that offer paid CPR certification courses can be found through the American Heart Association’s Website. Go to and click “Find a CPR Class.”

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