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Drive for CPR certification in Murray County comes up short, but efforts continue

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Murray County Emergency Medical Services Director Jim Gertsema fell a little short of his goal of getting 1,000 people certified in CPR in 2009, but plans to keep pushing ahead.

SLAYTON -- On average, about 18 percent of the population in any given city has been instructed in CPR and the use of defibrillators. In the City of Slayton, that percentage is closer to 45 percent, thanks to the concentrated efforts of Murray County Emergency Medical Services Director Jim Gertsema.

At the beginning of 2009, Gertsema had a goal of getting 1,000 people certified in a year.

"Well, we came in at 892, but we're not quitting," Gertsema said earlier this week. "I never quit pushing."

In the past year, Gertsema and some others have certified the Murray County Commissioners, everyone at the courthouse, the staff at several banks, Page 1 Printers and Wonderworld, teachers and students at two schools, staff at End-O-Line Park, everyone in the dental office, staff at Prairie View, all Murray County employees and more.

"Everyone has been very receptive," Gertsema said. "Especially after people find out that most success stories are victims that are defibrillated within five minutes."

Studies show that if medical care is administered within the first few minutes of a trauma, survival rates are much higher. Certifying as many people as possible would increase anyone's odds of having CPR administered in that crucial few minutes.

The Murray County Ambulance team has a very fast response time, but a bystander who sees a victim go down can certainly respond quicker, Gertsema said, simply because they are already there.

CPR is important because it addresses the ABCs of emergency care -- airway, breathing and circulation. And with more and more defibrillators available in public places, a basic familiarity with them is an advantage.

"The Murray County Health Alliance put five more defibrillators in public places this year," Gertsema said. "It looks like ECFE (Early Childhood and Family Education) is getting one, so we're going to train them now."

Gertsema is the first to admit he didn't train everyone himself. He received help from teachers and other instructors, and hopes to get some help in the coming year from first responders. He isn't asking the responders to teach classes, but to round up learners. He is hoping to organize classes in each Murray County town and get each responder to bring three people.

"In a small town, that is a lot of people," he stated.

The certification course for basic first aid lasts about an hour and a half and includes watching a video and testing hands-on as the course progresses. While the certification is good for a year, the knowledge is there for a lifetime.

The idea to certify as many people as possible came to Gertsema when he attended a seminar in South Dakota in 2008. He heard a young man speak who had saved his couch's life. The eight-grader's mother was an emergency medical technician (EMT) and the teenager had learned enough to know he needed a defibrillator (AED) when his coach collapsed.

Gertsema admitted he will do whatever he can to enhance the medical services in Murray County. He is working with fire and rescue department to organize a series of drills, giving the different departments in the county a chance to work with the ambulance crews so everyone is "on the same page" when it comes to delivering emergency medical care.

"We had a crash a while back in a corner of our territory and requested mutual aid from two other ambulance services," Gertsema said. "We had seven people extracted from vehicles within a few minutes and it went like clockwork."

All things considered, Gertsema may not have met his exact goal, but he is pleased with the results and his no intention of stopping now.

"We may have been a little short of the original goal, but 892 people is 892 more that can save a life," he said. "Having that many people trained --it's a big deal."