First person: learning a new lifesaving skill for the new year

By Colton Pemble, American Red Cross

No one ever expects to be in a situation where CPR is needed, but such emergencies come without warning. For instance, more than 300,000 people die of sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the American Red Cross.

You can increase the chances of survival for someone in that sudden emergency – whether it’s a loved one or a stranger – by knowing how to properly perform CPR and use an AED.

A participant readies for chest compressions during CPR and AED training recently in the Milwaukee office of the American Red Cross.

I recently had the opportunity to take a CPR, AED and first aid course offered by the Red Cross. Millions of people learn these skills through Red Cross classes or people trained by the Red Cross, including more than 38,000 people last year who were trained in Wisconsin. This was a new skill for me and something I was eager to take advantage of during my internship with the communications department during my studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

For my class, I chose a blended class option, which consisted of both an online and in-person portion, which made it very flexible to schedule. The online portion used a mixture of videos and text to teach how to recognize different medical situations and introduce the techniques to respond to them. I learned a lot more than I expected during this part, and it provided enough foundational information to make me feel very comfortable and prepared to attend the in-person portion of the class. 

For the in-person part, I registered for a morning class in Milwaukee. I was really surprised by how small the class size was, with there being about 10 students. This made it so that the instructor could really make sure everyone was learning and everyone there seemed very eager to learn as well. The instructor was also very engaging and had plenty of stories to tell about her own experiences that made the class more interesting.

Going into the class, I was pretty nervous because it was a skill I had no experience with, in practice or faced with someone experiencing a medical emergency. But by the end of it I was met with a large sense of relief that I would now have skills needed to help someone in crisis. 

Because the online portion was able to cover so much material, the in-person part was able to largely focus on hands-on training. In roughly two hours, the class was able to teach the proper technique for CPR, how to use an AED device, how to respond to someone who is choking as well as some basic first aid skills. There was also plenty of time to practice these skills by attempting to revive some CPR dummies and by using practice AEDs. By the end of the class – about three hours in total, including the virtual portion – I had learned a ton and felt as prepared as I could be to possibly have to use these skills in a real-life situation.

In addition to being potentially lifesaving, Red Cross training may fulfill OSHA standards and other workplace requirements. There are also many options for courses so they can easily fit into busy schedules, as well as many training locations. Many other types of courses are offered, for example, some are specialized for pediatric care or for water safety.

To learn more about Red Cross training or to sign up for a class, visit

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