More than 100 city and school employees got a hands-on lesson Thursday, Sept. 17, in hand-only CPR, a simplified version of CPR that local officials said can save lives.

Daniel Wassmer, battalion chief with the Milford Fire Department, said studies by the American Heart Association showed that people faced with a person in distress often said they were afraid to offer CPR for a variety of reasons, from fear that they might do it wrong, to fear that they had forgotten the number of times to compress the chest and then breathe into the victim’s mouth.

People also said they feared germs they might come in contact with by giving mouth to mouth resuscitation.

But American Heart Association studies also showed that compressions alone increase a heart attack victim’s chances of survival exponentially.

So they “dumbed it down,” Wassmer said.

While the phrase might sound disparaging, Wassmer is the last one to downplay the validity of hands-only CPR, and that’s why he organized a workshop Thursday at the Parsons Government Complex to introduce people who work in the building to the concept.

The 30-minute lessons were led by city firefighters, school and health department nurses, and members of the city’s Community Emergency Response Team. They gathered city workers around CPR dummies and showed them how they could save a life.

The instruction included use of AEDs — Automated External Defibrillators, which are located in all city-owned buildings. The instructors showed their students that pushing the start button on the AED starts the machine speaking out loud to offer step-by-step instructions to the person providing the life-saving compressions.

“You hit the ‘on’ button,” Wassmer said. “It’s automated. You can’t hurt someone with it. It’s calibrated, so it knows if the person needs to have a shock.”

If a shock is necessary, the AED instructs the person in the rescue situation when to push the shock button.

Mostly, Wassmer and the other instructors were telling city and school employees about the importance of compressing the victim’s chest and how that alone in many cases can be vital.

“It’s a simplified version of CPR,” explained nurse Kathy Scarinzi. She and nurse Lisa Skawinski explained that compressing the chest circulates oxygenated blood through the system, keeping vital organs receiving needed oxygen.

Before starting their life-saving work, the rescuer would have called 9-1-1, meaning that professional help and more advanced life-saving skills will be on the way, Scarinzi said.

Descriptions of hands-only CPR, a technique that Fire Lt. Clint LaPlant said is sweeping the nation, can be found on the American Heart Association website and the American Red Cross website.

According to the American Heart Association website, “If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song ‘Stayin' Alive.’ CPR can more than double a person's chances of survival, and ‘Stayin' Alive’ has the right beat for hands-only CPR.”

“Hands-only CPR is a potentially lifesaving technique involving no mouth to mouth contact,” according to the American Red Cross website. “It is best used in emergencies where someone has seen another person suddenly collapse. The hands-only technique increases the likelihood of surviving cardiac emergencies that occur outside medical settings.”

Indeed, music can be part of this life-saving technique, Wassmer said, indicating the music he had playing in the Parsons auditorium as the training took place. The Bee Gees classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive” is a perfect example because the beat runs in time with the proper number of compressions — 100 compressions a minute.

“Disco saves lives,” Wassmer said, adding that he didn’t make that line up.

Milford firefighters intend to spread the word about hands-only CPR by offering the 30-minute training in as many places as they can. Wassmer said the department will offer CPR training on various levels, and he plans to bring the hands-only demonstrations to various city events, offering it in a flash-mob sort of style.

“The fire department is trying to get very active in this,” Wassmer said.

Patrick Austin, a recreation supervisor with the Milford Recreation Department, was one of the city employees learning about the program Thursday, working up a sweat as he compressed the chest of a CPR dummy.

“This is great,” Austin said, explaining that it had been a number of years since he took CPR training and the city lesson helped him feel secure enough to step in if he sees someone in distress.

For more information about hands-only CPR, including video demonstrations, go to heart.org and redcross.org.