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Taking a Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Class

Red Cross CPR Practice Dummies
Red Cross CPR Practice Dummies

Most people who call 911 don’t start CPR and assisted breathing after someone goes into cardiac arrest, even when someone explains how to do it on the phone. That’s a shocking revelation, since CPR and assisted breathing is the BEST thing you can do to help someone survive cardiac arrest and ensure they have a meaningful life afterward.

After 4-8 minutes without oxygen, our instructor explained, a person’s brain and organs start to die. When you figure that urban EMS response times are about 9 minutes, what you do while you are waiting for EMS to show up is far more important than what they do afterward. If you live in a less urban area or one with slower EMS response times, knowing CPR might be crucial to saving the life of a family member or friend.

What is CPR?

CPR, or Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, takes over for a stopped heart and pushes oxygenated blood through a patient’s body keeping their brain and organs alive until professional help can arrive. Together with assisted breathing, ie. mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, they help ensure that oxygenated blood keeps flowing to a patient’s brain and organs even when their heart has stopped beating and they’re not breathing.

When you perform CPR, you alternate between blowing air into a patient’s lungs and pushing down on their chest for 30 seconds. The pushing motion simulates the pumping that’s usually performed by a healthy heart and ensures that blood continues to flow throughout the body.

CPR Compression Practice
CPR Compression Practice

What’s an AED?

An AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, is a consumer version of the electronic paddles you see doctors and paramedics using to restart people’s hearts on TV shows. It’s basically a talking box, that senses the patient’s vital signs, tells you when to use CPR, and when to stand clear of the patient so it can administer a shock to restart the heart. I’d never seen one before this course and I was amazed. This could really save someone’s life, especially if EMS is slow to arrive. That said, if you don’t have an AED or aren’t trained to use it, don’t. CPR and mouth-to-mouth will keep your patient alive until help arrives, although taking an AED class is something I highly recommend.

Experiential Learning and Hands-On Practice

The Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Class I took included lecturer instruction, video instruction, and a significant amount of hands-on practice with human partners and CPR practice dummies. For me, the hands-on experience is crucial because I retain information better that way and because you need to perform these skills in class in order to perform them in a crisis situation.

On that level, the Red Cross training we took was excellent and I came away feeling that I could use CPR, assisted breathing, and an AED on another person. I wish I had taken this course years earlier. It can mean so much.

How does a Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class compare with Wilderness First Aid?

The Red Cross Adult First Aid/CPR/AED course (5 hour) trains you to save a person’s life in the first few minutes of a heart attack, cardiac arrest, drowning, stroke, choking incident, diabetic disorder, allergic reaction, heat exhaustion, or massive bleeding where it is assumed that professional EMT or Paramedic help will arrive in 15 minutes or less. Much less emphasis is put on first aid techniques like splinting bones, head/neck injury immobilization, performing a physical exam, recording patient vitals, and rewarming frozen limbs because it’s assumed that the patient will receive medical care for these at a hospital.

This Red Cross class provides three separate First Aid, CPR, and AED training certifications, renewable every 2 years, that meet the training needs of workplace responders, school staff, healthcare providers, and the general public. There is no written exam and class attendance is sufficient to obtain the certification.

A Wilderness First Aid Course (16 hours) focuses much more on assessing and stabilizing a patient for hours or days until rescuers can arrive in the backcountry. The training focuses on patients suffering from sprains, broken bones, head/neck injuries, hypothermia, heat exhaustion and allergic reactions, and includes significant segments on outdoor leadership and group management during a medical emergency. CPR, assisted breathing and AED use is not included in the Wilderness First Aid curriculum.

Wilderness First Aid courses provide a WFA certification, renewable every 2 years, that meets the needs of outdoor trip leaders. There is no written exam and class attendance is sufficient to obtain the certification. More in-depth certifications are also available including Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT, which include CPR training and require a passing grade on a written exam.


When I originally signed up to take this Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class, I did it to fulfill a professional insurance requirement. However, it became clear to me very early on in the class, that taking it represented a much more personal investment that could save the life of a friend, or someone else in need. Realizing this really hit close to home, especially since my father passed away very recently from a heart attack. As I sat there, the instructor described key heart attack symptoms that I know my father experienced before his death, and which he could have sought aid for if he or my mother had put two and two together. Even more tragic, my dad had been a medical doctor for nearly 70 years: I just can’t help thinking that he could be alive today if he’d recognized what he was experiencing.

Knowing First aid and CPR can help you save the life of a loved one, or even yourself, if you’re aware of what’s happening. I’m glad that I took this class last week, but I wish I taken it a long time ago.

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  1. Good job on taking the time to get certified! It’s a pretty inexpensive bit of insurance and knowledge.
    The Red Cross needs experienced outdoor folks to instruct its Wilderness and Remote First Aid training (which is fun to do). Seems you’d be a great fit for that if you have interest and time.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this and more to write about it!

    I’ve been full-time on a 911 ambulance for over 10 years. I can tell you that good CPR being done by bystanders prior to EMS arrival is the exception rather than the norm. It is people like you who have the biggest chance of truly saving sometimes life!

    Just a reminder to everyone that according to the American Heart Association 2010 guidelines, it is just as helpful to JUST DO CHEST COMPRESSIONS if the person is someone you don’t know their medical history.

    Mouth to mouth Carries risk for disease exposure so most people are hesitant in strangers. The human body is an amazing thing. Your bloodstream has greater than 90% of its oxygen supply for about 10 minutes after you stop breathing (if a respiratory issue was not the cause of death). What that means is that CPR compressions alone – if you’re helping a stranger – will circulate the oxygen that is already there and may save their life!

    Thank you so much for helping get the word out there! You may be the friend that saves my life!

    I can’t think of a better anniversary gift!

  3. I took this class a few months ago. It was good to learn how to perform CPR, but retaining the knowledge months later has proven to be challenging. Being a 5-hour, one session class, it reminded me of cramming for a big exam. I could recall the information a day later but months later I’ve lost some of it. If you can, I would recommend taking a First Aid/CPR class that spans out over a number of sessions. I feel that would have helped me retain what I learned a lot better. However, the instructor did say that all the material that was taught is available online so I can go brush up on my skills at any time.

    • I did the same thing, had the option of volunteering to take the class at work and jumped on it. I keep the materials right by my desk and set up a calendar reminder once a month to just pick up the booklet and review it for a minute to help me remember.

    • Very good point. I, too, have this same first aid certification, but I found that without refresh or study, details get hazy. It’s very much a perishable skillset, and I think that to get the most out of it, proper maintenance is necessary.

      I’m planning to work it into my budget, along with other educational sessions, as it’s definitely not one of those courses that you can take once and never look back on.

    • Mike, Great point. I have ACLS and PALS certifications for my line of work and often times I review the algorythyms just to remember proper procedure. Luckily, they are rarely needed. There is an app out for smartphone users. I haven’t used it but it appears highly rated. If nothing else it would probably help keep it fresh for non-medical folks.

  4. I work for American Red Cross and came across your article during my daily social monitoring. Congratulations on your 21 years together! And thanks for writing such a great and informative article. I will definitely share it among my peers. And you should consider Scouter Paul’s suggestion… sounds like you’d make a great instructor!

  5. Philip, I would disagree with your point about not using an AED if not trained to do so. All the AED’s that I have seen in public places have very simple diagrams and written instruction on their use. Many of them also talk to rescuers as to guide them in the next best response, such as to continue CPR. If someone is having V-Fib or V-Tach, an AED may be the best option to get them back to a perfusing rythym. Do any of the AMC huts have them?

    • I was told that you lose Good Samaritan liability protection if you use equipment or procedures above your level of training.

      • You do live in Mass, so who knows what kooky oversight they have? (j/k….sort of) It’s probably a state by state issue. If true it really defeats the purpose of having them in so many public places. How many mall shoppers have AED training? Is the mall then negligent for furnishing them? Here’s a link to the Maine and New Hampshire statutes. NH specifically mentions AEDs.

        • Just passing along what I was told by my instructor. I’m not a lawyer. I have AED training and suggest others get it to.

        • Now that you have AED training … do you become liable when a patient dies on you and there was an AED device close by that you *could* have used, but didn’t? I’m not a lawyer either…. but I suspect that if the relatives of an accident victim want to sue you, they will do so, and find reasons for a suit, no matter what you did or didn’t do. Being nearby is plenty enough.

        • Anyone can sue you for anything at any time, but you won’t lose if you obtained consent, are working in good faith, and within your training. AEDs are intended for the general public to use and require no training to use.
          Each state has different Good Samaritan laws – it’s a petty misdemeanor in MN to not provide reasonable assistance to someone at an accident scene. But that ‘reasonable assistance’ could be as little as calling 911.

  6. I took this class on the AMC’s dime, but I do not know if the huts have AEDs. While I usually do not hike near an AED, it is useful to know how to use one. After taking the course I started to notice the devices everywhere in the civilized world – airports, stores, the office and MBTA…. This posting reminded me that I have to renew both my Red Cross certification and my WFA. Thanks.

  7. Thanks for reminding me about that Mark!

  8. I stay certified for CPR/AED, though I need to renew WFA.

    A few years ago, I did a (non-certification) CPR practice for our workplace ERT. That evening, my son choked on a piece of shrimp, so I Heimlich’ed him while the my other son (also WFA-trained) called 911. He was breathing again by the time the first responders arrived.

    In California, the good samaritan law does not protect you if you are negligent, but there is no provision about acting outside your training.

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