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Marco Island is a safer place this week. From Monday to Friday, firefighters and paramedics of the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department taught CPR and related lifesaving techniques to all the eighth-grade students at Marco Island Charter Middle School.

The MIFD teaches the students every year. This year, there will be 110 newly-trained citizen first responders thanks to the classes, although not all will be on Marco Island when they go home, as the MICMS student body encompasses a significant percentage of off-island residents.

The students take the normal American Red Cross-sanctioned CPR class, said MIFD firefighter/paramedic Chris Bowden, who “facilitated” the program and led the cadre of firefighters doing the instructing.

“They will be issued their certification cards,” said Bowden, after receiving literally hands-on training in adult, child, and infant CPR, as well as how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and the use of an AED, or automated external defibrillator. “This is the same as the adult CPR course ­– but these kids learn so quickly. They pick it up like sponges.”

The MIFD, he added, offers the CPR course free of charge to all Marco Island residents at least once a month, and the department would like to see everyone on Marco get certified.

And stay certified – as Bowden pointed out, the certification has to be renewed every two years to remain current. So, if you took a CPR course sometime back in the mists of time and would like to be ready if the need arises, you need to get recertified, if you want to be as useful as an eighth grader.

Not only do people forget, but over time, the techniques change. One change in recent years has been the widespread dissemination of AEDs, which vastly improve the efficacy of CPR, as long as those on the scene know how to use them.

On Tuesday, Bowden and fellow instructors Tony Gordon and Dirk Switken, both firefighter/paramedics, took small groups of students through a number of scenarios, explained how to deal with them, and then let the students take the lead and practice their new skills.

“How many compressions do we do for an adult? How many for a child?” asked Switken. The answer in both cases is 30 compressions, then two breaths into the victim’s airway. “After two minutes, do we stop?” The answer is no, even though the rescuer can expect to become tired.

Switken reminded the students that in the confusion of an actual emergency, there will likely be bystanders, filming on their cellphone cameras or becoming emotional.

MIPD Officer Paul Ashby, who was on duty at MICMS and looked in on the class, recounted one time he performed CPR on an elderly victim. “It kicks your butt. After the first minute, you’re already tired,” he said.

Bowden taught his group the three keys to survival: early recognition, early CPR, and early defibrillation, along with immediately having someone else call 911 while beginning compressions. But the most important consideration, he said, is always rescuer safety, not putting yourself in harm’s way while attempting to help someone else.

Some people hesitate to perform CPR, especially on a stranger, from not wanting to go mouth-to-mouth, or sometimes out of fear of hurting the person.

“You can’t hurt someone in cardiac arrest. They’re already dead,” said Bowden. And sadly, CPR is unsuccessful much more often not. “Of the hundreds I’ve been involved with, seven have lived,” he said. But there are people, including on Marco Island, who are alive today because of timely CPR.

First responders who do bring back a cardiac arrest victim are awarded a Phoenix Award, and the county has one of the highest success rates, said Bowden.

“This is good information for the kids,” said MICMS Principal George Abounader. “We’ve had this as part of PE for many years. It helps the kids to be responsible citizens.”

Gordon mentioned that another hazard, drowning, is highlighted during May, which is national drowning prevention month. “That’s the number one cause of death from age 1 to 4,” he said.

And Bowden passed along a tip on keeping your home fire extinguishers ready to go.

“Every so often, just pick it up and shake it,” he said.

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