CPR Sunday is Oct. 8

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Register online at www.cprsunday.net

By James Duggan

An off-duty Tacoma firefighter and his wife are having dinner in a restaurant on 6th Avenue. Couples and some young families occupy most of the other tables and booths. The clamor of many different conversations fills the room. A waitress stands with a note pad next to one of the tables, scribbling an order.

Suddenly there is a commotion at a booth across the room. Sitting at a table nearby, a man pleas, “Somebody do something!”

Everything stops abruptly. All eyes turn toward the booth where a frantic mother is now standing next to a child in a highchair. Struggling for air, the child cannot make a sound. His airway is completely blocked.

A common realization immediately connects everyone in the room. Something horrible is unfolding in front of their eyes. A child can’t breathe. The waitress has rushed out to call 911, but time is running out.

By now the off-duty firefighter is lifting the child from the highchair. Using his training, he clears the child’s airway. A torn piece of iceberg lettuce, the pale green culprit, drops to the floor. Success. The child gives the firefighter a quizzical look. Who are you? What just happened?

The tension vanishes as quickly as it had appeared. The diners are now connected by a shared sense of relief. As the firefighter returns to his table, applause breaks out, signally that everything is going to be all right.

This is a true story, but not a rare one. Off-duty firefighters, police officers, nurses, and other health care workers often step in when emergencies occur in public places, sporting events, or airline flights. First responders while at work, they become rescuers when off duty. Once the emergency personnel arrive, they relay what they saw and recount what they did, then quietly step back into the crowd.

That evening at the restaurant, the off duty Tacoma firefighter was the only rescuer present. But he knew he wasn’t alone in the sense that he simply relied on the training that he had received from seasoned Tacoma firefighters, who have real world experience with CPR. Clearing an obstructed airway is considered a basic skill that can be performed by laypersons as well as professionals. It takes no equipment, just knowledge of what to do and the confidence to act that comes from having practiced the skill under the guidance of experienced instructors.

If the off-duty firefighter were to be asked whether there was something he would have done differently that evening, he would say, yes. Instead of returning immediately to his table, somewhat embarrassed by the applause, he would have taken the opportunity to suggest that all the other diners take a CPR class. The room was first connected by common fear, then by common relief. He could have made a final connection about the common good. Take the time to learn and practice CPR and what to do for choking victims. Learn how to do what he did.

Registration for CPR Sunday is now open. It will be held this year on Oct. 8 at Henry Foss High School, located at 2112 S. Tyler St. In addition to getting hands on practice with CPR and clearing an obstructed airway in an infant, child and adult, participants will learn what happens when 911 is called and how to use an external automatic defibrillator. Sessions start at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.

More than 50 experienced CPR instructors will be on site. You’ll get to practice life saving skills under their guidance. CPR Sunday is free. You don’t have to be a Tacoma resident, or even live in Pierce County for that matter. After all, we are all connected.

Register on line at www.cprsunday.net.

James Duggan is City of Tacoma’s Fire Chief.

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