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Volunteers sought to save lives
CPR class 1
Community Emergency Response Team instructor Earl McGinley, assists CERT volunteer Marshall Garnutte with chest compressions during Saturdays cardiopulmonary resuscitation class. - photo by Photo by Samantah B. Koss

The Liberty County Emergency Management Agency conducted a cardiopulmonary resuscitation class Saturday for the Community Emergency Response Team. Liberty County’s CERT trains volunteers in emergency and medical techniques such as search and rescue, basic fire-fighting and CPR.
“CERT members are the first responders to an emergency before medical personnel get to the scene,” CERT instructor Mack McPherson said. “When someone in the community witnesses an emergency, we want them to know how to handle it … and that takes training.”
Training like the CPR class Saturday keeps members’ certification current. CPR certification cards expire every two years.
“These skills are perishable,” McPherson said. “If you don’t’ use them, you lose them.”
Twenty members are listed as CERT volunteers in Liberty County. CERT instructor Dennis Fitzgerald said more volunteers are needed, considering Liberty County’s size.
“Each neighborhood or city should have its own small CERT team,” he said. “They should be spread throughout the county so we can cover all areas.”
Liberty County covers 603 square miles from the ocean to its furthest inland boundary. Due the size of the county, the amount of time it takes first responders to arrive at the scene of an emergency may be too long. Life-saving techniques can be performed by trained community members before medical personnel arrive.
“That first 15 minutes is critical,” CPR instructor Dwight Biechler said. “Your chances of survival increases drastically if a witness performs CPR during that crucial 15 minutes before first responders arrive.”
Biechler said Liberty Regional Emergency Medical Services expanded its coverage in the past few years and added more ambulances to its fleet. Travel time takes less than 15 minutes now, depending on location. Biechler worked as a paramedic for 15 years at the hospital.
 “There have been a lot of times when I got a call, and if CPR had been started, their chances of recovering from a cardiac arrest would increase,” he said. “The American Heart Association has made it very easy now to learn CPR. Anyone can do it.”
Contrary to past training techniques, Biechler said CPR administrators do not have to give breaths to patients who require resuscitating. The American Heart Association now advises CPR administrators to perform 100 chest compressions per minute. Blood circulation is the most important factor in preserving brain function. If a CPR administrator keeps the blood circulation going with chest compressions, survival of a cardiac arrest increases.
“Circulation is key,” Biechler said. “When you perform chest compressions, blood is kept moving throughout the body and keeps the brain working.”
CPR training has improved over the years. Students used to be taught to administer 80 compressions per minute while stopping to give mouth-to-mouth breaths.
“With the HIV/AIDS scare, I think people were afraid to administer CPR,” Biechler said. “Now the American Heart Association is teaching the lay person that all they really need to do is the chest compressions.”
CERT volunteers learn how to perform chest compression, the Heimlich maneuver and automated external defibrillator application. Many public buildings, such as schools and the airports, are equipped with AEDs.
“We see kids running around the airport and saving lives with an AED,” Biechler said. “More and more people in Liberty County are being taught CPR … it is a lot easier to learn.”
Training is essential in preparing the community for emergencies and disasters.
“You can’t wait until the last minute to learn life-saving skills,” CERT volunteer Maria Gregory said. “We need people to be trained before a disaster hits so we can respond fast and make the most difference.”
The Emergency management agency always is looking for community members to volunteer for CERT.
For more information on becoming a CERT volunteer, email Liberty Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Larry Logan at

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