Seconds matter when it comes to saving a life.
A person in the grips of cardiac arrest needs to receive CPR immediately, experts agree. With that urgency in mind, Metra has certified more than 1,000 of its employees to perform CPR and use automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
“We have a very small window of opportunity to help someone,” said Metra Safety Training Officer Alysia Preininger. “A quick response gives that person a better chance of survival.”
All conductors, police officers, electricians, carmen and some engineers, station employees and other employees go through a 2.5-hour class every two years in order to receive a CPR/AED certification from the American Safety and Health Institute. During these classes, Preininger teaches attendees to identify the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest, the proper techniques for using hands-only CPR and an AED, as well as how to save someone who is choking. Employees learn these techniques as they apply to adults, children and infants.
All of Metra’s trains, police cars, employee facilities and downtown stations are equipped with an AED, a portable device that can send an electric shock to the heart to restore it to its normal rhythm. CPR and AEDs act as a team to keep a person alive until emergency personnel arrive, Preininger said.
The American Heart Association estimates about 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, the agency said, adding a victim’s chance of survival decreases by 7 to 10 percent for every minute that passes without defibrillation.
“When someone goes into cardiac arrest, it’s a gamble. We don’t know how this is going to go,” Preininger said. “We have to address it every time like we’re going to win. We’re going to help save this person and they’re going to go on enjoying life for the next 50 years.”
Choking poses another threat, with its own set of life-saving procedures. Employees learn how to do the abdominal thrusts that will save adults and children, as well as the back blows used on choking infants. Preininger's advice: do it like you mean it.
That guidance was instrumental in saving a member of Metra’s railroad family late last year.
BNSF Conductor Scot Aldinger attended Preininger’s training and relayed the information he had learned to his son and his son’s girlfriend, who have a 9-month-old daughter. When the infant began to choke a few days later, Aldinger’s son remembered what his father had told him. He gave his daughter a few raps on the back until she began to breathe. As it turned out, she had swallowed a penny.
In a letter to Preininger, Aldinger credited the class for his granddaughter’s future.
“Had you not trained me, and I passed on the information I learned from you, this may have had a different ending,” he wrote.
It’s a sobering situation anyone could face. To help prepare commuters, Metra holds annual events that promote CPR and AED use. This year as part of CPR and AED Awareness Week, Metra partnered with the American Heart Association and Illinois Heart Rescue to provide demonstrations at several Metra stations.
Preininger recommends anyone whose employer doesn’t offer a CPR/AED class seek one out at a local fire department, park district or community center.
“It’s an extremely valuable class,” Preininger said. “It’s definitely worth making time for.”