Slowly but surely, Forest Lake is becoming a safer community, thanks to a partnership program between the Forest Lake Fire Department, Police Department and Lions Club. Fire Chief Alan Newman is confident that the program, a free, hour-and-15-minute-long class training attendees in hands-only CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator, will result in more area residents surviving cardiac arrests.

“We’ve a couple in the last six months where a bystander implemented chest compressions and an AED and saved people,” he said. Though the department hasn’t heard from those people if they took the Forest Lake class or learned the technique elsewhere, Newman believes the proliferation of local residents with those skills means it’s only a matter of time until someone who has taken the class will be called upon to use their knowledge.

The genesis of the class came in spring 2018, when Forest Lake Lion Rich Jabas contacted Newman to tell him about a similar program he’d heard about. Jabas believed the Forest Lake Fire Department could offer the class locally, and he kept reminding Newman about the idea and encouraging him to do some research.

“He was persistent and stayed on me and found out where a class was being held in East Bethel,” Newman recalled.

After attending the class, Newman was convinced. The Lions donated $7,000 to the city for the program, and the police and fire departments purchased 24 CPR mannequins and 12 training AEDs.

Ultimately, the element of the class that speaks to Newman is the statistics.

“They track all this stuff, and statistics have shown that if you administer chest compressions along with use of an AED early in the process [of a cardiac arrest], the probability of survivability can be as high as 90%,” he said. “Every minute that you go without chest compressions and AED use, … your probability of survival decreases.”

The classes themselves are simple. They are booked in advance by people who RSVP to upcoming events on the Heart Safe Forest Lake Facebook page. Most of the classes are held on Tuesday evenings, with the occasional Thursday class here or there, all at the Forest Lake City Center. Attendees (there are usually about 24 per class) will watch a slideshow presentation on chest compression CPR and the use of an AED, which can be applied to someone suffering cardiac arrest to shock their heart back into a regular rhythm. Then they train on the mannequins. At the end of the session, attendees won’t be certified in first aid or CPR; they won’t have done any mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, they’ll know how to do what they came to learn.

Obtaining that knowledge can be intimidating for the layman, Newman said, which is why many people don’t know how to do the basic lifesaving procedure.

“There’s a fear of performing CPR or any medical [procedure, just working on people,” he said, adding that the class is designed to impart the knowledge in an easy-to-understand, stress-free way. “People will take the class and say, ‘Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.’”

The class organizers, headed up by Capt. Sean Thomas, are constantly tweaking the program to make it more informative, comprehensive and accessible; recently, that’s meant incorporating the story of Hugo 16-year-old Kaylyn Rosewell into the class. Rosewell is a student at the Larkin School of Dance who went into cardiac arrest during a performance; a couple of audience members kept her alive with CPR and AED use until paramedics arrived.

Newman said stories like that are illustrative of one of the class’s big lessons.

“Anyone can have a sudden cardiac arrest. … This is not just a senior citizen issue,” he said.

In addition to the monthly classes, the event organizers have taken their presentation out into the community, teaching kids at the high school and members of local businesses and community organizations about how to do the procedures. The Lions Club has made several AED donations in the community, as well, better equipping residents to save a life.

“The Lions have been very instrumental in making this program happen,” Newman said.

Newman encouraged anyone interested in helping make the community a safer place to sign up or to contact Heart Safe Forest Lake about organizing a special group session.

“The more people who are on the street who know how to do this, the higher probability that people can be saved,” he said.

Ryan Howard has been the news editor of The Forest Lake Times since 2014.

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