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Murray County Emergency Medical Services Director Jim Gertsema has been the ambulance director since 1996 and an emergency medical technician since 1981. He hopes to have 50 percent of Murray County citizens certified in CPR by the end of 2009.

A CPR goal

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SLAYTON -- When he first voiced the idea out loud, he was told he was nuts, but that didn't stop Jim Gertsema from pressing forward.

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His goal? Getting 50 percent of Murray County citizens certified in CPR by the end of 2009.

"It will be a challenge," he admitted. "But it is doable."

As the Emergency Medical Services Director, a new position created this past summer, Gertsema is in charge of the Murray County Ambulance, its crew and the training. He has been the ambulance director since 1996 and an emergency medical technician (EMT) since 1981.

He first got the idea of certifying half the county when he attended a seminar in South Dakota and heard a young man speaking who had saved his coach's life. The eighth-grader's mother was an EMT, and the boy had learned enough to know he needed a defibrillator (AED) when his coach collapsed.

"That kid knew what to do, and that man is walking around today because of it," Gertsema stated.

Studies show that if medical care is administered within the first 10 minutes of a trauma, the survival rate is much higher.

"The quicker it is initiated, the more the odds go up," Gertsema explained.

Gertsema spoke of a scenario where half of the people within a county trained in CPR, first aid and use of an AED. If a group of 10 people are at an event and one has a heart attack, four or five would have the knowledge to help, Gertsema said. If an elderly person has a health emergency while mowing the lawn, and he has a neighbor on both sides, one of them would know how to administer emergency care until the EMTs arrived.

And for those who have the knowledge but may be nervous about using it, there is strength in numbers, Gertsema pointed out.

Only a few weeks into the new year, Gertsema and some others have already begun training efforts. More than 60 people at the courthouse and government building are now trained, various hospital staff -- including non-medical staff -- are being trained, daycare providers will receive training this weekend, and teachers from Murray County Central (MCC) have appointments set up for training in the next several months.

"I hope to have 50 percent of Slayton done by the end of June," Gertsema said. "That's 1,050 people."

He's not just talking adults, either. Gertsema has been talking with area schools about having students eighth grade and up certified in CPR.

"Eventually I want to add sixth- and seventh-graders, too," he admitted. "Baby steps."

He has been giving tours and presentations to students about what EMTs do and how their process works. He tells the students about the advantages of knowing the basic ABCs of first aid.

"Just think," he stated. "If the school kids knew how to do the basic ABCs, the victim is probably going to survive."

ABC stands for airway, breathing and circulation. Without these three things, a person cannot live. The first steps of administering CPR include checking the ABCs to determine what steps need to be taken to keep the patient alive.

The course to get certified in basic first aid takes about an hour and a half and includes watching a DVD, and the students test out on the hands-on portions as they learn. The certification is good for two years.

"People have really faded away from basic first aid," Gertsema said, seemingly puzzled by the fact. "And did you know volunteerism is down 62 percent in Minnesota?"

Getting 50 percent of the county certified in CPR and basic first aid, Gertsema said, will "make Murray County a little bit better than any others."

Gertsema and his team of certified teachers will work with fire departments from various towns to make sure their firefighters are certified. Then they will ask the fire departments and first responder units to start bringing in the citizens of the towns for training.

"In some of these small towns, if each person from the department brings in two people, we can get 75 percent of the town certified," Gertsema said, shaking his head in wonder. "Can you imagine that?"

Currently, he said, there are 37 AED units in the county, with the Murray County Health Alliance in the process of adding several more. They can be found in schools, daycares, public buildings and other venues. With the number of AEDs available, people should know how to use them, he added.

"This is a retirement community," Gertsema said. "There are quite a few elderly people. It is also a caring community, where people care about their neighbors and each other."

There was no real reason he chose 50 percent over any other number, he admitted.

"People tell me I'm crazy most of the time," he admitted. "But I believe it is an attainable goal."

Anyone interested in the training can contact Gertsema, (507) 836-8780.

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