Lifesaving skills at Columbus school contribute to extraordinary outcome, national recognition

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Karin Westlake, Janet Pacala and Kelly Towne helped save a life by using their American Red Cross training in First Aid, CPR and AED. For their heroic and lifesaving actions, on Sept. 16 they received the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.  

Kyle Kriegl, Executive Director, Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the Red Cross, presented the certificates during a recent virtual board meeting.

“The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is given to individuals, like Karin, Janet and Kelly who step up in an emergency situation and help save or sustain a life,” said Kriegl. “These individuals exemplify the mission of the Red Cross to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and are to be commended for their willingness to help another in distress.”

Kelly Towne, Janet Pacala and Karin Westlake pose with their national life-saving recognitions from the American Red Cross.

On March 1, 2020, Westlake, and Pacala, members of the Building Emergency Response Team at Columbus Elementary School, heard a colleague call for help. When they arrived on site, they found the victim unconscious and unresponsive. That’s when their training and instincts set in.

You can be trained in CPR, First Aid, lifeguarding and other life-saving skills. Sign up here for virtual and in-person lessons from the American Red Cross.

Pacala called 911 and requested the school’s automated external defibrillator (AED). Westlake began cardiopulmonary compressions and they both continued to perform compressions and rescue breaths on their colleague until Towne, a Columbus Police Officer, arrived on the scene. Towne immediately accessed the situation and performed cardiopulmonary compressions. EMT’s arrived shortly thereafter and took the lead on care. 

Thanks to the efforts and skills of three courageous women, the survivor has recovered and is doing well. This was the first save for all three women.

Columbus School District Superintendent, Annette Deuman, nominated the women for the award. She is proud of their efforts and encourages all staff to have lifesaving skills. “I couldn’t be prouder of these ladies,” said Deuman. “They did everything beautifully and performed their lifesaving skills correctly and accurately leading to a fantastic outcome.” Deuman, too, has a connection with the Red Cross as a frequent blood donor and has nominated others in her career for Red Cross Lifesaving Awards. 

Westlake resides in Columbus and works in the Columbus school district, where she holds the position of Dean of Students/Assistant Principal at Columbus Elementary School. Her position requires her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified and she encourages everyone to get certified. “You never know when you’ll need to use these skills,” said Westlake. “I never thought I’d have to use the skills I learned, but I am so proud that I had them, and I was able to help save a life.”

Pacala resides in Beaver Dam and for the last 16 years has worked at Columbus Elementary School as an Educational Support Professional. Even though her position does not require her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified, she holds the credentials. “You never know when a friend, family member or stranger will be in an emergency situation,” said Pacala. “If you see someone in need, you need to be prepared to jump in and help.” Janet has seen the mission of the Red Cross in action throughout her life – as a blood recipient she is grateful for blood donors and when flooding hit the Columbus community years back, her parents were aided in evacuation efforts by the Red Cross. 

Towne resides in Columbus and for the last 17 years, has worked at the Columbus Police Department as an officer. Her position required her to be First Aid, CPR and AED certified. She believes that Westlake and Pacala’s immediate actions with starting CPR compressions contributed to a successful outcome. “As a police officer, I am trained and know it’s always good to have a plan and be prepared,” said Towne. “I wish more people would be CPR certified and not be scared to use the skills.”

The survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, is coincidentally First Aid, CPR and AED certified. “I would have never thought I would have been the one receiving CPR, I think it is so important for everyone to know CPR skills as you never know when you will need to help another person. I am so grateful for Karin, Janet and Kelly for knowing what to do and for saving my life. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at

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