The Birmingham Fire Department’s EMS coordinator, Robert Abraham, showcases an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which is used to revive people from sudden cardiac arrest.

The Birmingham Fire Department’s EMS coordinator, Robert Abraham, showcases an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which is used to revive people from sudden cardiac arrest.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Safety professionals encourage residents to receive first aid training

By: Andy Kozlowski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 11, 2022

 Birmingham Fire Department’s EMS coordinator, Robert Abraham demonstrates chest compressions, a form of CPR that doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth.

Birmingham Fire Department’s EMS coordinator, Robert Abraham demonstrates chest compressions, a form of CPR that doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


BIRMINGHAM — When Alex Calderone, a reserve police officer who volunteers at special events in Birmingham, attended a block party Aug. 22, he encountered a young girl who was choking. He recognized the signs and performed the Heimlich maneuver, and in the process, he saved her life.

“That knowledge he had was part of his training (from the Birmingham Fire Department),” said Paul Wells, the fire chief of Birmingham. “And it’s the same training available to members of the public who sign up for our free classes.”

The Birmingham Fire Department offers a free course called “CPR for Family and Friends” on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Fire Station No. 1, located at 572 S. Adams Road. The course lasts about two hours, teaching participants how to perform CPR and relieve choking. Participants learn the signs of heart attack, cardiac arrest, stroke and choking in adults, as well as signs of choking of infants and children, and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome.

“To anyone who might feel uncomfortable with the idea of learning CPR, I would tell them that it’s no longer mouth-to-mouth when they teach it. Rather, it’s just chest compressions, which is called ‘bystander CPR,’” Wells said. “And chest compressions are very effective, because the springiness of the compressions for the heart also open up the lungs, so that they can begin receiving more air.

“Choking can also lead to cardiac arrests — choking being the primary reasons that little kids go into cardiac arrest — so if you know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver to open an airway, and how to do CPR, it can be very important in those situations as well,” he said. “It’s also helpful to know the signs that help is needed, like when a person is coughing, clutching their throat and their color is changing. Learning the signs and what to do can save lives.”

The Birmingham Fire Department also offers a paid class called the “Heartsaver CPR Course,” which comprises three classes held on the fourth Saturday of January, April, July and October, starting at 8 a.m. and lasting four to five hours. The fee for the classes is $45.

In addition to teaching participants CPR and relief of foreign-body airway obstruction, the classes also provide training on how to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED — a portable electronic device that can revive someone from sudden cardiac arrest.

Upon completion of the class, participants receive a CPR card from the American Heart Association with an expiration date of two years.

“If you are in cardiac arrest, CPR by itself will not bring you back, but it compresses the heart, which is a pump, and pushes blood to your vital organs, which can improve your chances of recovering when you can get the AED or manual defibrillators there in time,” Wells said.

To sign up for one of the classes, or for more information, call the Birmingham Fire Department at (248) 530-1906.

Courses in first aid are also available through the American Red Cross.

“Accidents happen, which is why it’s critical to be prepared — to help yourself, your family members or your neighbors,” said Meghan Lehman, the regional communications director for the American Red Cross Michigan Region, via email. “Red Cross encourages everyone to learn first aid, CPR and how to use an AED, so they’ll have the knowledge and confidence to act in an emergency.”

Courses are offered both in-person and online. Registration is at

“We empower people to learn skills and use them to save lives in emergencies. The Red Cross has been creating courses and training people in first aid for more than 100 years,” Lehman said.

She noted that on average, more than 4.5 million people per year receive Red Cross training in first aid, water safety and other skills that help save lives, and that in 2020, her organization honored more than 500 individuals for their efforts to save or sustain a life. Lehman said that if you know someone who helped save or sustain a life, you can nominate them for the Red Cross National Lifesaving Award at

Lehman said that accidents and emergencies can happen to anyone, anytime, so everyone is encouraged to learn first aid, CPR, and how to use an AED.

“Every second counts, so people need to know what to do until medical help arrives,” she said.

To that end, the Red Cross offers a variety of online, in-class and blended courses with both online content and in-person skills training. Course participants learn how to perform CPR, how to help someone who is choking, how to control bleeding, how to treat someone having a heart attack, and more. Onsite training is also available for groups, and an organization can have someone become a certified instructor to train their colleagues.

Lehman also said that the Red Cross offers courses tailored to current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the national opioid crisis. There are two online courses focused on returning to work and psychological first aid during COVID-19. There is also “First Aid for Opioid Overdoses” — an online course to teach people how to respond to a known or suspected opioid overdose — and the Red Cross Resuscitation Suite, which offers courses in Basic Life Support, Advanced Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support to help health care, EMS and other public safety professionals meet certification and licensing requirements.

The Red Cross even offers an online course for administering first aid to cats and dogs, complete with a related smartphone app. And speaking of apps, the Red Cross also has a general first aid app for instant access to expert guidance on what to do in a variety of emergencies. First aid kits and emergency supplies are also available through the Red Cross’s online store.

The Red Cross responds to an average of 60,000 disasters every year, and in Michigan alone, the Red Cross responds to an average of more than 1,500 home fires each year. The Red Cross is also always in need of blood donations — those interested in giving can visit  

“We have a long history of empowering people to save lives,” Lehman said, “and we continue to address today’s urgent needs with new programs and resources.”