ANSBACH, Germany (Jan. 29, 2015) -- Normally, pulses of electricity run from one end of the human heart to the other, giving the muscular organ its steady rhythm of contraction and expansion. Sometimes, however, the wiring misfires and the heart spasms in frantic vibration, disrupting the regular flow of blood through the circulatory system.

When this happens, it is called "ventricular fibrillation," a medical condition that can cause sudden cardiac arrest. For sufferers of v-fib, the result is potentially fatal, and immediate intervention -- by means of an automated external defibrillator, or AED -- may be the only thing that keeps the sufferer alive.

The American Red Cross at U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach held training on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, use of an AED and basic first aid Saturday at Katterbach Kaserne.

James Lowell, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, taught the course to several USAG Ansbach community members.

"It's an easy class to take; it's a relatively easy skill to learn," said Lowell. "It doesn't matter if you're young or old: Everyone can do CPR."

Individuals with physical disabilities can also train and certify on lifesaving skills in the course, according to Lowell.

"If a particular skill is hard, we will find a way around whatever is getting in the way and help you to meet the standard for CPR," said Lowell.

The participants had different reasons for taking the course. Heather Bassett and Erika Flowers took the course to gain or maintain certification for their jobs. Flowers is becoming a fitness instructor and must have the lifesaving certification as a prerequisite. Bassett, a yoga and pilates instructor, must keep her certification current.

Bassett found the training useful when she was a lifeguard and a child suffered an injury.

"Knowing how to handle it properly, how to calm the kid down -- with experience you feel more confident so you can handle it better," said Bassett.

"Even if it's been a while since you've taken the class, it [the training] still kicks in," said Flowers.

The 4.5-hour course progressed through three sections: CPR, AED and first aid.

During the CPR portion of the training, the participants used mannequins of an adult torso and a full-size baby to physically learn the techniques of CPR. Lowell taught the correct procedures for determining whether someone needed CPR, including asking whether the person needed help and checking for vital signs. The mannequins require a correct tilt of the head to breathe into them, and they also provide the resistance necessary to simulate chest compression. The participants learned how to apply protective equipment to lessen the chances of transmitting a disease.

Lowell provided instruction on delivering effective compression to the adult (locking the elbows to push with gravity) and the infant (only two or three fingers for an effective one-inch compression). He also reminded the participants that actual humans would be considerably heavier than their mannequin counterparts.

Learning CPR formed the basis of understanding for the next block of instruction: AEDs.

AEDs provide their users instructions when the machines are turned on. Modern AEDs make audible instructions for the user to apply the adhesive pads to the victim's chest. It then analyzes the heart rhythm of the victim, instructs the user to perform CPR on the victim, delivers an electric current to get the heart beating normally, and reanalyzes the rhythm.

The final portion of instruction was on basic first aid, focused on injuries that require care before the arrival of emergency medical personnel. These injuries include shock, bone fractures, hypothermia, frostbite, burns, choking and heat-related illnesses.

Lowell recommended that those who have taken the course return periodically, not just to keep certifications current but to develop better muscle memory and to stay abreast with current procedures. The American Heart Association reviews the lifesaving procedures periodically and makes changes as necessary.

"From my experience, we've gone from 15 and two [15 chest compressions and two rescue breaths] to 30 and two," said Lowell. "It's based on statistics and studies. They're always asking 'How can we do this better?' 'How do we deliver this training better?'"

"If there's a car accident, or your kids are swimming at the pool or whatever may happen, it's important to have it," said Bassett. "You may be that one person that's there on the scene. You may be that one person that's there with your husband or your spouse or your children, and it helps you."

"Life is unexpected, and you never know what's going to happen," said Flowers. "So you might as well be prepared for anything and everything that can happen."

The next classes are scheduled for Feb. 28, March 28, April 25 and May 30, all on the second floor of Bldg. 5817, the Army Community Service building. All participants must pay in full upon registration. To learn more or to register, call 09802-83-2136/1760 or 467-2136/1760.

To contact the American Red Cross at USAG Ansbach, select "American Red Cross at USAG Ansbach" in the "Related Links" section above.