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File / The Outlook Alexander City Fire Department firefighters are licensed to practice CPR.

The first moments following an accident or heart attack are critical. 

If the moments are lost to inaction, death can result. They are moments that can be used by those on the scene while awaiting help from paramedics.

“If you have someone in sudden cardiac arrest, you have only a few minutes,” Alexander City fire chief Reese McAlister said. “The only way to better your chance of surviving while waiting on an ambulance is with good CPR and a defibrillator.”

McAlister said most of the firefighters at the Alexander City Fire Department are EMTs or paramedics and licensed to perform CPR, render first aid and more, but citizens have the ability to help friends when an emergency occurs by performing life-saving measures such as CPR.

But where does someone learn CPR?

“We teach CPR and first-aid classes,” McAlister said. “We teach all sorts of groups — teachers, nurses and doctors.”

McAlister said the ACFD has instructors for advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advance Life Support (PALS).

“Those are mainly for nurses and doctors,” McAlister said.

McAlister said the first aid class teaches things to help in all sorts of situations. 

“For bleeding, the common thing is to apply direct pressure and elevate,” McAlister said. “If it is an arterial bleed spurting blood, a tourniquet should be used. One thing has changed about tourniquets, they can be used for up to two hours.”

Previously using a tourniquet was only suggested for short periods of time because of the possibility of losing a limb according to McAlister.

McAlister likes automated external defibrillators (AEDs) because no training is required to use them.

“It’s the reason AEDs are so important out in the community,” McAlister said. “They tell you step by step what to do. It only shocks the persons when it’s needed.”

McAlister said AEDs help treat heart attack victims through the defibrillation allowing the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.

While training is not needed to use AEDs, McAlister said they are covered in classes with the fire department. The classes are $40 per person and can be scheduled by calling the fire department at 256-329-6780.

Good Samaritan Laws protect those rendering first aid in emergencies in Alabama.

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.