ITHACA, N.Y. — Knowing basic CPR can save a life. To help equip more people with the skills to keep someone alive until paramedics arrive after a cardiac arrest, Bangs Ambulance gave quick demonstrations Thursday to bystanders on the Ithaca Commons.

This week is National EMS Week and on Thursday, two members of Bangs Ambulance were stationed on the Ithaca Commons to show passersby how easy and important basic, hands-only CPR is. For anyone interested in a demonstration, they will be giving tutorials until 6 p.m. Thursday.

Bangs Ambulance took CPR basics to the public Thursday because it’s something not a lot of people know or are comfortable with, but it’s very easy to teach, paramedic Stephanie Harris said.

“When it comes down to it, anyone who survives a cardiac arrest survives it because somebody started CPR on them right away,” Harris said. “And we (paramedics) can’t be there right away. We can be there really fast, but not right away. And so what really makes a difference in survival rates and people actually being able to survive a cardiac arrest and be able to walk out of the hospital essentially the same person as they were before the cardiac arrest is by standard CPR. That’s what saves lives.”

According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur out of hospitals every year, and 90 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest die before reaching a hospital or medical care facility. But effective CPR can make a difference.

The AHA says if a bystander “does not perform CPR, the survival chances of a victim will decrease by 7 percent every minute.

The demonstration on the Commons was only a couple minutes and was meant to give people the confidence to perform CPR if they are in a situation where someone goes into cardiac arrest. The CPR taught was “hands only” and focused on chest compressions, not rescue breathing. Even just doing chest compressions and keeping blood pumping can save lives, Harris said.

“Because your body has a lot of reserve oxygen that it is capable of using if it needs to, but it can’t use it if there’s no circulation going on so what you’re doing is manually circulating the blood for them,” Harris said.

In cardiac arrest, the brain has full brain function for 8 to 10 minutes with good, high-quality CPR, Harris said.

“So someone in an emergency like this, you want to start CPR early and have a little interruptions as possible throughout the whole process,” EMT and senior medic Chris Vonderlin said.

Harris said while paramedics do a lot of work, but said they don’t have a chance to save people if nobody starts CPR in the first few minutes.

The process Harris and Vonderlin explained Thursday was to first check to make sure if someone was responsive, and not just sleeping. If they are unresponsive, the next step is to check the person’s pulse on their neck for 10 seconds or less. If there is no pulse, then compressions should start right away.

“If they’re unresponsive and you can’t find a pulse, start right away,”Harris said.

At the same time, either call 911 yourself or have a bystander call, Vonderlin said. From there, make sure the person in cardiac arrest is on their back and begin chest compressions by putting one hand on top of the other in the center of the victim’s chest and push hard and fast, about 100 to 120 times per minute, pressing down about two inches.

Watch a quick demonstration video below to see the full method.

For more information about CPR, visit the American Heart Association.

Featured image: From left, Stephanie Harris and Chris Vonderlin of Bangs Ambulance were stationed on the Ithaca Commons on Thursday to teach basic CPR to bystanders. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.