Lifesaving Lessons: Why a Woonsocket mom says all employers should offer first aid, CPR training

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – Call 12 for Action typically receives consumer complaints about products or companies. But a recent email to the team was quite different. A Woonsocket mom, praising a Rhode Island employer, because she says the company literally saved her son’s life.

Nicol Lara has always known moments with her 1-year-old son Sebastian are precious. Just before Thanksgiving, she realized just how precious when she was faced with what could have been.

“I heard the scream,” Lara recalled. “It was just different. It was gut-wrenching.”

“I picked him up,” she continued. “He had his mouth open, and he looked like he couldn’t breathe. I panicked.”

Fortunately, Lara’s friend Tonya didn’t. She was able to dislodge a screw that Sebastian was choking on. Lara would later realize the screw had fallen from a window air-conditioning unit right into the toddler’s toy chest.

“I felt helpless as a mother,” Lara said. “I felt like had I been taught or had I been empowered with the knowledge of what to do, I could have had control over it.”

“I just can’t imagine what would have happened if Tonya wasn’t here because I had no idea what to do,” she added.

Tonya, who declined our request for an interview, had been trained in first aid and CPR through her employer, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island. She works in IT, so it wasn’t a requirement, just a perk of the job.

Lisa Whiting, the vice president of human resources and administration at Neighborhood says the company offers annual CPR training for its clinical staff and employees who are part of a safety committee.

“There’s a huge benefit to doing this, as evidenced by this great story of one of our staff members that was able to save a young child,” Whiting said.

Neighborhood also partnered with the American Heart Association two years ago to offer training company-wide. Whiting estimates about 80% of employees participated.

“For us as an employer, that is just a big big deal for us,” Whiting said. “We want our employees to feel safe. We want them to feel secure here, and we want them to know what to do in case of an emergency.”

Lara hopes her story will be the reason other employers begin to offer the same lifesaving training.

“I think it would be great for employers to offer that as a benefit to their employees,” she said.

Certain workplaces already have emergency training requirements. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, registered health clubs must have an automated external defibrillator (AED) on site and one employee per shift must be trained to use it.

Places that are open to the public with a capacity of at least 300 are also required to have an AED and a person trained to use it. The same applies for middle and high schools.

Teachers are also required to complete CPR training and according to state law, CPR and AED training is part of the curriculum for Rhode Island high school students.

For daycares, state law mandates that at least half of the staff must be CPR certified, and at least one trained staff member must be on duty at all times.

According to the American Heart Association, the organization trained more than 60,000 Rhode Islanders in CPR in 2017.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.