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From ‘uh oh’ to taking action

Equipping citizens to put down the cell phone and save lives in an emergency

Fort Worth Mayor Besty Price learns hands only CPR and a MedStar community event.JPG

Photo/Matt Zavadsky

Quick! The person next to you just collapsed from cardiac arrest, or is not breathing due to a possible overdose, or is bleeding to death from a traumatic injury! You have only 2 minutes to save a life! Do you know what to do? … Be more than a bystander – be a Citizen Responder!

This is how MedStar Mobile Healthcare, in Fort Worth, Texas, frames a flyer encouraging local citizens to sign up for a first aid class. As part of EMS Week 2023, MedStar is offering a free hands-only CPR, stop the bleed and naloxone administration class at its headquarters.

Citizen trainings are an excellent way to engage your community and spread awareness and good will about the service you provide during EMS Week (and all year long!), with the added benefit of preparing your future bystanders to jump into action and begin care before you can arrive in an emergency.


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I asked our friend Matt Zavadsky, chief transformation officer at MedStar, for tips to get you started in planning and hosting your own community training event. Here’s what he had to share.

Citizen responders who can take action

“We too often see that bystanders whip out their phone to record video during a medical emergency instead of providing life-saving medical care,” Zavadsky pointed out.

There are simple steps we can teach community members that make a difference, equipping them with the skills to save a life – and “reduce the chance of simply having an ‘uh oh’ squad, to having citizen responders who can take action.”

Staffing and funding

Your first thoughts may be, how are we going to pull this off? And, better yet, how are we going to pay for it?

Staffing the event might not be as challenging as you may think. Zavadsky shared that EMS personnel flocked to help teach the MedStar community training courses. “EMS providers are typically extroverts by nature, and love providing public instruction – it’s a great morale booster,” he said.

As for funding, MedStar has historically funded community training out of the agency’s budget, however, they have had some success with local agencies offering to fund training in return for being listed as a sponsor of the event. Likely sponsors include local foundations, hospitals (and their foundations) and even corporate sponsors, according to Zavadsky.

After a local manufacturer’s employee suffered a traumatic injury who would have benefited from stop-the-bleed interventions, the company offered to sponsor a training as a tribute to their employee. They offered to pay for the instructors and refreshments for the event.

Plan for success

Don’t be surprised if you get quite the turnout, Zavadsky advised. For the upcoming EMS Week class, MedStar had four RSVPs in less than 5 minutes of posting the event.

“We have found that the public has a huge thirst for emergency training, such as stop the bleed, naloxone administration and hands-only CPR,” he said. When MedStar offered a stop-the-bleed and hands-only CPR class last year, they had over 500 registrants.

The original plan was to host all attendees for the 3-hour class at MedStar’s main deployment center. However, once they saw the registration numbers climbing, it rapidly became clear that they needed a plan B. They shifted to an online video instructional platform, with the 500-plus registrants coming in for a four-station skills checkoff. The team arranged for eight field providers to be on site for 4-hour time blocks over 12 hours to staff the stations.

“If your agency is going to offer this type of training in your local community, be prepared for a huge response from the public,” Zavadsky stressed.

Further, training leads to more training. “Often, someone who took your class ends up talking to someone else about it,” he said. “More often than not, that person then requests a class for their group.”


Read more:

On-Demand: When seconds count – Stop the bleed

EMS training in bleeding control must incorporate mass casualty incident plans and drills as well as the need to prioritize patient triage by injury severity, transport priority and the type of treatment that is required.

Boost morale

Zavadsky’s final tip? “Just do it! It’s relatively easy, with a high return on investment, both in terms of patient care in the field, but also community recognition for your agency,” he shared.

Share your community photos and videos with us at We’ll share your success in a future Photo of the Week.

Kerri Hatt is editor-in-chief, EMS1, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. Prior to joining Lexipol, she served as an editor for medical allied health B2B publications and communities.

Kerri has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia. She is based out of Charleston, SC. Share your personal and agency successes, strategies and stories with Kerri at