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First responders hold ‘Save Your Sweetheart’ CPR training event

Residents and city employees, many dressed in Valentine’s Day red, pumped the chests of the mechanical torsos, simulating CPR moves

The Hour

NORWALK, Conn. — In the Norwalk Concert Hall, a handful of plastic dummies lay prone on the stage. Residents and city employees, many dressed in Valentine’s Day red, pumped the chests of the mechanical torsos, simulating the moves that would keep blood and its supply of oxygen circulating through a person whose heart had stopped beating.

Chris Lovell, a paramedic leading one City Hall employee through the cardiopulmonary resuscitation training, coached her on her rhythm—the recommended tempo for CPR is between 100 and 120 compressions per minute.

“Do you remember the Bee Gees song, ‘Staying Alive?’” he asked. The song, at 103 beats per minute, is perfect for pacing.

The event, called Save Your Sweetheart, was put on by the Norwalk Fire Department and Norwalk Hospital emergency medical responders. According to the American Heart Association, only 8 percent of people who suffer a cardiac emergency outside of a hospital or clinical setting will survive, but administering CPR immediately can double or even triple chances of survival.

The fire department staff at the event were newly certified to teach CPR.

“I get a ton of phone calls in the office about CPR trainings,” said Albert Basset, deputy chief of the fire department. Previously, no one had been qualified to offer training to the public, which meant he had to refer people elsewhere. So this summer, half a dozen firefighters went through the training to become Basic Life Support CPR instructors.

Lt. Chris Riccio coached a woman learning CPR for the first time to check whether the person was responsive (touch his or her shoulder and ask, “Can you hear me?”) and call 911 (if someone is around, direct them to call so you can get started immediately).

Then move the person so they’re on their back on a hard surface, remove the clothing from their chest and begin pumping the center of their chest, allowing it to come back to its normal position between compressions.

“They still have oxygen in the blood,” Riccio explained. “So you need to keep the blood moving in order to keep the flow of oxygen to the brain.”

The American Heart Association now recommends hands-only CPR, without the mouth-to-mouth breathing you may have once learned, because it has found the technique simpler and easier to remember.

Erin Herring, with Recreation and Parks, was practicing using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on a nearby dummy. Wires connected an orange box to pads on the dummy’s chest.

“I’m affiliated with the American Heart Association because my son has a heart problem,” Herring said. She is a proponent of AEDs, which analyze the rhythms of a heart and use electrical pulses to reestablish normal rhythm after cardiac arrest.

The devices have been placed in white boxes with bold red lettering spelling out “AED” around the city. They can be found in City Hall, Calf Pasture Beach, every school and several parks.

If someone suffers cardiac arrest near an AED, send a person to retrieve it while you begin CPR. To unlock the box holding AED, that person should call 911 for the pass code.

Once the AED is turned on, it will relay instructions on how to use it. A man’s voice emanated from the AED Herring was using, telling her where to place the pads and when to administer a shock.

“People need to know you can use this,” she said. “It’s horrifically important... it affects everyone.”

She hoped people would take advantage the devices. “We need to dispel this fear of liability,” she said. Riccio agreed. “You’re covered under the good Samaritan law, because your intention is to help.”

Basset, who organized the training, said the aim was to help expose more people in the area to CPR.

“Out west, King’s County, Washington, is the best place to have a heart attack,” he explained. There, so many people know CPR that one out of five people who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive.

Basset hoped that the East Coast could catch up and thought that Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to begin.

“It’s about a healthy heart,” he said.