New law could help high-school students save lives

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Principal Deborah Holcomb of Southern Heights Elementary never imagined she would spend a Tuesday afternoon saving a life.

She was in a conference when a warehouse worker collapsed in the school's gymnasium. He was unconscious and would not wake up. An assistant called 911, and while they waited for an ambulance Holcomb took turns performing CPR with the physical-education teacher. They kept the man alive until an aid crew arrived and restarted his heart using a portable defibrillator.

Holcomb hadn't expected she would save a life that day, but she credits the high-school educators who first taught her CPR for giving her the skills to do so.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1556 into law this week, which will require all Washington state high schools to include CPR training in their health education curriculum.

"I think it's an excellent idea," Holcomb said. "The more people that have been trained the better chance someone will be there in the moment."

The law does not require high-school graduates be CPR certified, it only requires the skill be taught during health class. Teachers are not even required to be certified. If a student misses class the day of the CPR lesson, they can still graduate.

In addition, the law requires all schools with portable defibrillators have emergency plans in place if they ever need to be used.

"As a society we need to get comfortable with AEDs," said State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, who sponsored this bill.. "As time progresses they're going to be wherever people congregate."

Eric Rothenberg, of Mercer Island, experienced the life-saving effects of CPR after he went into cardiac arrest while playing tennis in 2009. Now, Rothenberg is an advocate for CPR training. He said he believes 30 minutes of CPR education could empower an entire generation of students to save lives.

"The worst thing in an emergency is not knowing what to do," Rothenberg said. "CPR is a great life skill. hopefully they'll keep with them into adulthood."

Five senators and twelve representatives voted against House Bill 1556, including Rep. Elizabeth Scott. Scott said she voted against the measure because CPR is already being taught in many schools without the state requiring it, including public schools in the Seattle, Issaquah and Highline districts.

"The underlying principle is that I would like to see more local control and this bill increases state control, completely unnecessarily," Scott said.

Some principals say this is an unfunded mandate, Scott added.

But Rothenberg said there are many community groups offering free CPR training to schools, including some local firefighters. The American Heart Association is also available to connect schools to local resources.

"If we get creative and work together, I think school districts can really make this happen" Rothenberg said.