Demand For CPR Classes Soars

cpr with aed training and blur background

Local fire department responds


January has been an unprecedented month for interest in learning CPR in the Wood River Valley. Keller Gibson, fire inspector and public education coordinator for the Ketchum Fire Department, said the demand for classes is higher than she has ever seen.

“We have always offered CPR certification classes to people who need to learn it for specific jobs, like day care or government workers,” Keller explained. “That number is pretty static, as many jobs require recertification every two years.” What is new, however, is the number of people in the county who work outside jobs that are the ‘usual suspects’ who are seeking both the more structured certification courses and basic community courses. Gibson said lately she has had “what feels like every building job foreman in the Valley,” as well as many builders coming in for CPR and stop-the-bleed training in addition to just everyday citizens who may have a new baby, an aging parent or spouse, or an active lifestyle that takes them away from access to quick medical care.

Gibson has seen an interesting growth trend with members of the outdoor community. “People who backcountry ski and recreate in the mountains have been signing up for classes,” she said. “They have done avalanche training and realize that it makes sense to follow up with CPR training. Once you’ve dug someone out, you may have to help rescue them in additional ways.”

Much recent interest, Gibson said, can also be attributed to one person: Damar Hamlin. When the young, super-fit Buffalo Bills defensive back collapsed on the field in cardiac arrest during a game on January 2, people took notice. Maureen Brown, an active and avid skier and pickleball player, signed up for a community class this month, and heard many of her fellow attendees cite Hamlin’s terrifying collapse as the main reason they wanted to acquire a solid understanding of how to administer CPR.  Gibson concurred, “The incident at the Buffalo Bills game sparked a lot of interest.”

Brown’s decision to attend a 1.5-hour community class at the Ketchum Fire Department was not based on this incident, however, but another frightening episode that happened while she was in the desert in November to play pickleball. “The place we play is very busy with a lot of courts. One day we were there, and we hear screaming and yelling and people calling for a doctor,” Brown recalled. “Everyone had gathered around a man who had been watching his wife play and fell out of his chair. He didn’t have a pulse. Thankfully a nurse was also playing nearby, and she started aggressive CPR on him.” Brown said she was shocked by her inability to assist in any way and was determined to not be the person waiting for the EMT to arrive. When she saw the listing for free CPR classes in the City of Ketchum newsletter, she phoned, signed up for a spot, and got the training soon thereafter.

What surprised Brown most about CPR, and another reason she recommends as many people as possible learn the skill, is just how exhausting it is to perform. “You have to have someone show you how to do it effectively, and ideally you need someone to switch off with to have a break,” Brown said. “My takeaway is how important it is, if you’re doing it, even if you stop for five seconds, you can undo the work you did. It’s very physical. I had taken a CPR class a long time ago and the memory definitely came back but I needed the refresher since things change.” She said it was a great experience and Gibson was very knowledgeable.

Gibson agreed that the science does change and that the training many people may have gotten years ago is now outdated. One major change is that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is now optional and not taught as part of basic, life-saving CPR. Brown said this change made her more comfortable with jumping in to help someone, a reaction Gibson said many people have.

Brown said after the course she feels much more confident of her ability to help in an emergency. She also appreciated that basic Heimlich maneuver information was also included in the course. “I left thinking if something happens, I’m going to be calm, confident, and maybe save someone’s life,” she said.

Brown is one of many Valley denizens who should be feeling more confident and ready to help after training. The community classes offered by the Ketchum Fire Department have proved wildly popular and Gibson said by the end of January, she estimates she will have taught 100 people CPR.

The fire department also continues to offer the more formalized certification classes in addition to community classes. The American Heart Association Heart Saver course is a three-hour class where attendees must hit certain benchmarks and show proficiency. These classes are smaller and more personalized, but again, they are free aside from the cost of the Heart Saver class card, which is about $25.

Gibson said in her position of public education coordinator for the fire department she is so glad to see the interest in these classes. “During Covid, it was really hard as St. Luke’s had to stop doing classes and there was a real need building up,” she said. And she has no plans to stop teaching life-saving classes anytime soon. “I am putting dates on the calendar right now for next month and they will be posted in both the Ketchum city newsletter and online on their website,” she explained. “These classes really are open to everyone; anyone is welcome. And if you can’t come when a class is scheduled, I can make a class for a minimum of three people.”