By offering classes that teach the skills necessary to save lives, Yale Student Emergency Medical Services is working to ensure that people who suffer from cardiac arrest make it to a hospital alive.

“When someone goes into cardiac arrest, six to 10 minutes later their brain cells are dying,” said Shaun Heffernan, a paramedic on the faculty of the Yale School of Medicine in the Emergency Department and an adviser to YSEMS. “If you don’t try anything in these situations, that person has a zero percent chance of survival.”

Since its creation three years ago, the goal of YSEMS has been to promote health and safety in the Yale community. The organization currently provides Emergency Medical Technician standby service at athletic events, but aims to extend its reach on campus by covering additional activities and teaching first aid.

According to the American Heart Association, 95 percent of people who suffer from cardiac arrest die before reaching a hospital.

Students who are members of the group are certified as EMTs and train participants in adult Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillator, which are used as first responses to emergency situations.

The adult CPR and AED classes are offered for $35 on alternating Saturdays at University Health Services and are open to anyone. If students pass a short test at the end of the session, they receive a two-year certification in adult CPR from the Emergency Care and Safety Institute.

YSEMS member Stephanie Lake ’07, who is responsible for organizing the classes, said she thinks the sessions are affordable and teach worthwhile skills.

“It’s not such a huge burden to take a two to three hour class to learn how to save a life,” Lake said. “I really think it’s a skill that everyone should have.”

Matt Boelig ’06, the training officer for YSEMS, said people who have no experience with CPR or AED may be intimidated by the thought of shocking someone.

“Taking a training defibrillator out and using it on a mannequin defuses the fear of using it on a real person,” he said.

Students also have the option of staying for an extra hour for an additional $5 to become certified in child and infant CPR.

“Instances often involving a child are very emotional,” Boelig said. “It’s important to know what to do and keep your cool in such instances.”

YSEMS is responsible for training Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip leaders in adult CPR and AED annually, and has also offered its services to freshman counselors, science teaching assistants and other groups whose members may be in emergency situations.

“We want to train as many people as we can to be first-responders. We can only be in so many places at once,” YSEMS Director Brett Youngerman ’06 said.

CPR is used to maintain the circulation of oxygenated blood to the brain, which can prolong life and give time for help to arrive, Youngerman said. A familiarity with these procedures can help people act rationally to save lives before advanced care arrives on the scene, he said.

“With AED training, it is even possible to restart the heart of someone who is experiencing an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, which is the most common cause of cardiac arrest,” he said.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they can perform CPR, but many are afraid to do so in an emergency because they fear that they will not do it correctly, Heffernan said. A passerby with any training or a cardiologist in a hospital using an AED is capable of giving a victim the same treatment.

“The thing to remember is that the person is dead without you,” he said. “The more medically trained people we have living in the Yale community, the safer it will be.”

Yale is considering a public-access AED program similar to those in airports and shopping malls, University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said.

Although the New Haven Fire Department can rapidly respond to most emergencies, Genecin said this initiative would place the devices in high-risk locations that ambulances may not be able to reach quickly.

“We’re at a very early stage of planning an AED program,” Genecin said. “It’s something that is not yet approved or under serious consideration.”

Genecin said he hopes the program will become viable in the future as a part of the UHS budget, but he encouraged students to take the CPR and AED classes that are currently available.