First Aid, CPR courses attract Martha’s Vineyard residents

Amanda Taylor of Edgartown practices bandaging the forearm of Joe Harris, who took the course to be prepared for anything. — Photo by Jack Shea


The sound was repeated, again and again, on Saturday morning in the meeting room at the new YMCA in Oak Bluffs.

The sound was welcome to four students, each crouched over a plastic mannequin. The students were learning the proper technique to help resuscitate — restart the heart — of a victim of an accident or heart attack. Eight other students, also present to earn certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), watched intently. CPR aids in circulating blood containing oxygen to vital organs of an unconscious person.

Rob Porter, the CPR course instructor, also liked the sound. “These mannequins have little clickers where their heart would be if they were real people,” he told the class. “When you hear the click, you know you are using the right pressure and angle.”

Mr. Porter then explained the complete protocol: 30 chest pressures (the click-it step), followed by two mouth-to-mouth breaths using a porous mouth guard, then surveying the patient to see if breathing has begun. If not, continue the protocol until the patient begins breathing on his or her own or until more medically advanced help arrives.

“How long do we repeat this protocol?” one student asked.

“Until help arrives, the person begins breathing on their own, or until you can’t physically do it anymore,” Mr. Porter said. “I know of cases where victims in remote locations have been kept alive for hours and hours until help arrived.”

The atmosphere in the room seemed to change in that moment as many of the 12 people who had come for certification for jobs as boat captains and nannies and healthcare professionals began to see themselves as potential life-savers.

Joe Harris, from Honolulu, was already in that place. “I want to be ready,” he said simply, noting he had seen the course advertised in local newspapers and decided to take it while here visiting friends in West Tisbury. “This is great. I guess you could say it’s Islanders helping Islanders.”

Thanks to Mr. Porter, Islanders no longer have to go off-Island to take it. “I took it in Hyannis a couple of years ago and that can be a hassle, so 10 months ago, I got certified as an instructor to offer the class on-Island and about 60 people have been certified here since,” he said.

Mr. Porter also offers CPR training for school employees and in the workplace for organizations and companies with at least six students. He said the Red Cross is also planning to train Island volunteers to respond to disasters such as hurricanes and house fires on the Island. Mr. Porter also works as a certified nursing assistant at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in Oak Bluffs.

“The Y has been great,” Mr. Porter said. “We train their employees and they provide this great room for training others, which helps the Island be more self-sufficient.”

So it went for three and one-half hours, from instruction in manual resuscitation techniques, to the use of automatic electric defibrillators (AED) — small portable machines used to resuscitate — to techniques for handling cuts, burns, broken and dislocated bones and sudden illness.

The course combines a text with an accompanying DVD, coaching and explanation of hands-on techniques by Mr. Porter. Following the course, students complete a multiple-choice test on the material with 45 questions. Students who take both infant and adult CPR have a slightly longer test. Saturday’s class came in all shapes, sizes and ages, from wispy young women to burly, seasoned men.

Brothers John and Cody Pachico from Oak Bluffs are fishermen renewing their captain’s licenses, which requires CPR certification. They were at a table with Ezra Agnew, who handles waterfront operations for the Edgartown Yacht Club. Like many of his fellow students, ” I’ve never had to do CPR myself, but I’ve seen a lot of it,” Mr. Agnew said.

Dawna Brown of Edgartown took the course to be prepared. “I’m going to be babysitting this summer and I want to know what to do, to be able to help,” she said while wrapping the “injured” arm of Mr. Harris, her teammate.

Like Ms. Brown and Mr. Harris, Al Mark wants to be prepared. Mr. Mark is a construction contractor who has worked on the new hospital and is building the new teen center addition to the Y, slated for completion in late May. “It’s helpful training to have on the job site,” he said.

Lily Morris of West Tisbury is a massage therapist being re-certified for her license. “This is for my Maine license. Maine requires CPR certification. Massachusetts doesn’t,” she said. “I’ve been taking CPR since I was 12.”

Like Ms. Morris, Teri Pirozzi from Edgartown is an experienced CPR practitioner. A personal trainer for 22 years who specializes in training women over 50 and seniors, she first trained in CPR 20 years ago.

“The training has changed a lot, and it’s much more accessible,” Ms. Pirozzi said, adding that she was most grateful for the development of the AED. “CPR helps to save lives. AEDs save lives.”

“The more training people have, particularly in the workplace, the more comfortable they will be in an emergency situation,” Mr. Porter said. “Training helps people get through that initial shock. No one really knows how they will react to a situation but after the initial fight or flight response that we all have, trained people realize more quickly that they have the skills to help.”

First Aid/CPR/AED courses are offered several times each year on the Island. For more information, or to register, call the American Red Cross office in Hyannis, 508-775-1540.