Medford Fire-Rescue wants 2013 to be the year of CPR awareness and training.

Medford Fire-Rescue wants 2013 to be the year of CPR awareness and training.

The department is spearheading a program that aims to see city of Medford employees and every seventh-grader in town trained in proper cardiopulmonary resuscitation technique, said Eli Champagne, a firefighter and paramedic with Medford Fire-Rescue.

"We think it's a critical skill to have, no matter who you are," Champagne said. "This year we trained about 400 people and we want to see that number grow in 2013."

The department will begin making its push into the schools, where its goal is to give each seventh-grade student training in CPR.

The program also will send the students home with an assignment to help a minimum of five people in the community, family or friends, learn about CPR and how to perform it correctly, said Samantha Metheny, a fire investigator and a CPR coordinator with the department.

"The students will get a DVD and a mannequin to take home to practice on," she said.

The homework assignment won't be a comprehensive CPR training experience, but will give those people who watch the DVD and read the literature a good idea of what to do if someone close to them experiences a heart attack.

Champagne and Metheny stress the importance of reacting quickly in a medical emergency.

"We want people to remember two important things," Metheny said. "They need to first call 911 and then begin chest compressions."

The earlier the chest compressions begin, the higher the survival rate, Champagne said.

That strategy paid off recently when three Medford Public Works employees rushed to the aid of a man who suffered a massive heart attack on Laurel Street.

The employees were working on the street when they heard a woman scream for help. They entered the home and found a man lying on the floor. He had suffered a heart attack and was not breathing.

They began chest compressions and were able restart a pulse in the man before paramedics arrived.

The key to chest compressions is to be forceful and not worry about injuring the patient's chest, Metheny said. Some people are hesitant to begin CPR because they are afraid of doing it wrong.

"Yes, you can break ribs or separate cartilage, but I'd rather survive a heart attack and heal from broken ribs than die," Metheny said.

The department recently purchased five automatic CPR machines that will be fitted on one engine at each fire station.

The machine will deliver measured chest compressions to adults who suffer cardiac arrest.

The machines will make it easier for paramedics to keep consistent compression on a patient as they are loaded onto a gurney and transported to the hospital, Champagne said.

"It was difficult to continue compressions as the patient was being moved around," he said. "It was a struggle to maintain consistency."

The machine consists of a back board that stabilizes the patient and a band that wraps around the chest. The band then pushes down on the patient's chest with enough force to push blood in and out of the heart.

The department offers free CPR classes every other month. The classes are certified by the American Heart Association, and each student will receive a CPR card upon successful completion of the course. For more information on Medford Fire-Rescue community CPR classes, call 541-774-2300.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email