Heart of the matter: The story behind why hundreds of Incline Village residents are trained to save lives | SierraSun.com

Heart of the matter: The story behind why hundreds of Incline Village residents are trained to save lives

Kayla Anderson
Special to the Bonanza

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District CPR Coordinator Jim Whitson says there is a disproportionate amount of people who know CPR in this town — and that's a good thing.

Although the program has been going on for many years, this longtime Incline Village resident started teaching the Heartsaver CPR AED class in October 2015, and has since taught 2,398 students in the Northern Nevada/California area.

Managing 188 instructors across the Northern Nevada/California region, Whitson is responsible for maintaining instructors' records and meeting American Heart Association's CPR guidelines.

Whitson also gets out in the field in working with REMSA at least once per week, so he is used to dealing with at least one cardiac arrest per month.

To cover more of the Incline Village area, Whitson brought on fellow colleague Devin Hiemstra to help teach the classes.

"One of my biggest pet peeves is working with instructors who've never ran real calls; Devin is great to work with because he has real world experience," Whitson says. "Instructors should get in the field and get their hands dirty."

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PREPARING A COMMUNITY

Hiemstra, a natural-born Incline resident, has been working with Jim Whitson as a ski patroller for many years, and he also works with REMSA.

Hiemstra says that people who have exposure to CPR early and often is helpful for when the time comes to help someone in cardiac arrest.

"It's pretty cool when the light bulb goes off in someone's head and you see them get it," Hiemstra says. "When a family member goes into cardiac arrest, the response should be automatic."

Last summer, he spent some time in Southern California as an adventure guide where he saw a direct effect of CPR training.

"We walked through a yellow jacket nest and someone stopped breathing," Hiemstra says. "We just went through the emergency preparation test that was just taught to the guides a few days before. To see how that kicked in was phenomenal; they jumped in and did everything you would expect a professional guide to do."

So far, Hiemstra teaches a lot of classes in Reno, and he hosts classes at the main Incline Village fire station every couple of weeks.

He's taught CPR to fire crews, Mt. Rose ski employees and IVGID staff. Hiemstra says that a mix of people take CPR for work, to prepare for a family member or friend who may need it, or to simply be helpful.

Whitson adds that babysitters have also found they can make more money per hour when they are CPR-certified, so he sees younger students getting their certification cards to make that extra buck as well.

'I TRULY LOVE IT'

Since last fall, Whitson has taught CPR to at least 200 Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe employees, 200 IVGID employees and 100 people from other local organizations and businesses.

"I like to teach in this community because I live here. If someone has a heart attack, this is the best place for it to happen in," Whitson says.

Incline Middle School will also take a day and substitute PE for CPR training.

"We taught the entire seventh grade class at Incline Middle School CPR," Whitson said.

He added that NLTFD's press release titled, "CPR in Progress at Incline Middle School," garnered the attention of other media as well.

Hiemstra remembers taking that class as a 7th grader and the fire district always being motivated in spreading American Heart Association awareness.

"Japan teaches every high schooler CPR, and their survival rate is higher than anywhere else in the world," he says.

Whitson has given classes to local HOAs like Forest Pines and Crystal Bay Cove, as well as other organizations like churches and local businesses.

In all, Whitson has taught 46 classes so far, almost all of them located in Incline Village.

"I truly love it; it really gives back," Whitson says.

MORE CLASSES TO COME

When cardiac arrest happens, there is an industry average of a 7% survival rate. Although Incline Village is a bit higher (10% average) because so many people are trained in CPR, there is still a downside.

"Unfortunately most cardiac arrests happen at home with zero pre-hospital care. Fifty percent of people are able to perform CPR, but if they don't get pre-hospital CPR the survivability is horrible," Whitson says.

Luckily, when you call 911, dispatch walks you through how to do CPR in a step-by-step process, but there are still a lot of people who don't follow instructions.

So Whitson says that if you're going to have a heart attack, you're better off if it happens at the Hyatt.

"They have seven AEDs and 200 employees trained. Hyatt managers have really gone out on a limb to make sure it's happened," he says.

"If I have a heart attack, I prefer it to be here," Whitson adds. "As a community we have more citizen rescuers trained in CPR than any other place I've been associated with."

Public CPR classes cost $47 and are held at the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District station on 866 Oriole Way.

The next scheduled classes are on July 21, Aug 3, Aug 18, and Aug 31 at 5:30 p.m. (subject to be canceled if fewer than four students enroll).

The District can also schedule a personal training session for a specialized group or organization.

"I will literally drop everything to teach a class," Whitson says.

Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. She loves sharing stories about Lake Tahoe and her community. Have a story idea? Email her at kaylaanderson1080@gmail.com.

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