CPR and Basic First Aid Should Be a High School Graduation Requirement

In the wake of that insane 70+ car pile up on I-95 North yesterday, I was especially moved by the account of the off-duty EMT who started triaging folks and no doubt saved a few lives/limbs.

I’m astounded that no one died. Whenever there’s a potential ‘mass casualty’ event I ask myself if, with the comparatively small but no less useful basic life support training I have from a career in healthcare, I would have been able to provide any help had I happened across the disaster.

One of the first certifications I received after I began working in healthcare was HAZMAT training for healthcare settings. That process was quite grueling and even though I’ve only run a handful of drills, after the Ebola scare last summer I admit I feel better having it than I would if I didn’t know my way around mass casualty triage and decon procedures. I’m a girl who likes to be prepared.


But my first certification came when I was just a high school kid and a few friends and I took a community CPR course. I strongly believe and am actively advocating that these courses be mandatory graduation requirements for all Maine high school students. Perhaps even all U.S. students. Even if you only know how to give good compressions, which have been scientifically proven to be more important than mouth-to-mouth breath giving (which tends to make people squeamish and may even prevent them from initiating CPR if they witness someone collapsing), that could be the life or death difference if you’re there when someone arrests.

In addition to just basic CPR, everyone should know how to recognize other medical emergencies, such as choking or drowning. I saw a wonderful infographic on Twitter the other day that shows how easy it is to miss when someone is drowning because they may not display the “help help, i’m drowning” trope we often see depicted in film and TV.

Similarly, many of us had our first jobs as teenagers either baby sitting or working with kids in some other facet and knowing how to handle choking in babies, toddlers and young children should be required learning for anyone who is ever responsible for a child. Kids like to put stuff in their mouths! My nephew is 2 and whenever he visits I get palpitations worrying about him doing something dangerous — he’s fast and I figured out pretty quickly once he became mobile that it doesn’t take very long for kids to get into stuff they shouldn’t.


Even just knowing how to delegate in an emergency can help to calm the chaos that tends to erupt if someone is hurt or collapses in a public place. Even if you aren’t necessarily giving CPR or triaging people in a situation like what happened on I-95, if you are comfortable and competent to give directions you can help keep people calm until the first responders arrive. The first thing they teach you in a CPR class is to POINT AT SOMEONE SPECIFICALLY AN SAY “YOU — CALL 911.” or “YOU—GO GET HELP.” Because if you just yell it out to anyone, there’s this group-psychology phenomenon where everyone assumes someone else will do it — and thus, no one does it. If you can delegate, organize and be a calming presence during a crisis you’ll be helping not only those who are injured or sick, but ensuring there aren’t any “chaos casualties” as a result of the hysteria that often presents itself during these types of events.

You can even take these courses online and they aren’t expensive. Also check out the offerings at your local hospital or fire department. Community Adult Ed courses also offer CPR, First Aid or Basic Life Support certifications.

If you’re like me and you don’t see actual humans that much because you work from home, you still might benefit from knowing some key pet first aid. 

Abby Norman

About Abby Norman

Abby Norman is a Maine writer and journalist. She reports and manages social media for Midcoast Maine’s VStv-88 and is working on a memoir to be released in Spring of 2017. She’s represented by Peter Tallack. She is a 2015 Stanford Medicine X ePatient Scholar, an advocate and speaker on endometriosis, foster care and autism. She is a member in good standing of The Society for Professional Journalists and the National Writer’s Union. She lives in Camden with her dog, Whimsy.