A organization of paramedics in Thunder Bay, Ont., hope a new initiative they're launching this fall will turn the tide on a low rate of CPR response in the city, and ultimately, save lives. 

In October, the Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics plans to offer the first in a series of simplified, free courses covering the very basics of CPR, in the hope of encouraging more people to step in when they witness someone experiencing cardiac arrest.

The idea for the program came after reviewing some statistics, said association president Ryan Ross, and discovering that Thunder Bay's rate of bystander CPR response is very low. 

"I can tell you that Thunder Bay's really bad," Ross said of the response rate. "So we're hoping to make that a little better."

"We're looking for ways to engage the general public and maybe get that rate of CPR prior to our arrival up, because right now, currently I believe it's less than 25 per cent." 

Ryan Ross

Ryan Ross is the president of the Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics. (Daniela Ross)

Every moment counts

The vast majority of calls about cardiac arrest come from bystanders and family members, Ross said, but it's usually emergency responders who start CPR. 

That's a real problem, because when people are experiencing heart failure, every moment counts, he said. 

"You've got about a five minute time-frame, give or take, with no blood going to the brain before you start to see some detrimental effects, so no CPR on-scene prior to our arrival directly affects our ... outcomes when get to the hospital." 

"Nothing's more frustrating than coming to a cardiac arrest and nobody's been doing CPR for five or 10 minutes, and then we're kind of facing a bit of an uphill battle," he said.

Free courses will teach 'hands only' CPR

The Superior North Association of Professional Paramedics plans to offer it's first course on October 11, with plans to continue holding them once a month or so, based on public demand. 

The courses will be taught by volunteer paramedics, will take about an hour and will cover "hands only" CPR — chest compressions without mouth-to-mouth breathing.

While the lessons will not offer any sort of certification, Ross said he hopes they will reach some people that might not otherwise learn anything about CPR. 

The paramedics association will also be encouraging people to take the full certification courses offered by other organizations, such as St. John Ambulance.