Should first aid training be mandatory in Quebec?

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After two choking incidents in 24 hours led to one rescue and one death in Quebec City this week, advocates are calling for mandatory first aid classes in the province.

“In a public place, people should be able to intervene, to know what to do,” said Jocelyn Bergeron, director of RCR Secourisme Québec, an organization that offers first aid training in Quebec City.

The Quebec government does have some first aid training requirements for the workplace and it encourages citizens to take courses, but most states in the United States are taking it step further.

Over the last decade, some 40 states have made cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) courses a mandatory requirement to graduate high school.

Along with making it part of school curriculum, some Quebec advocates point out that countries such as Germany require first aid training to get a driver’s license.

When it comes to choking, Bergeron said a simple abdominal compression manoeuvre, also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre, can save someone’s life in seconds.

2 choking incidents in 2 days

The effectiveness of the Heimlich was demonstrated in a Quebec City Tim Hortons on Monday evening when a former professional boxer rushed to the aid of a man in distress.

The incident was captured by a surveillance camera and confirmed by staff at the coffee shop.

The video footage shows a man standing up, holding his throat and, within seconds, Éric Martel-Bahoéli takes action.

“I heard a sound, like choking, but really peculiar. I turned around and saw a man in distress,” said Martel-Bahoéli, recounting the incident in an interview with Radio-Canada.

“I thought, ‘he’s choking,’ so I started running, I took him, I lifted him up and I did the Heimlich manoeuvre.” 

The former boxer has worked at a local youth centre for a decade and, to hold such a position, he must go through first aid training every three years.

The course doesn’t take long and it goes over CPR, the Heimlich and other techniques, he said.

“I think the whole population should be taking this course,” he said.

eric martel bahoeli - Should first aid training be mandatory in Quebec?
Former boxer Éric Martel-Bahoéli posted a photo of himself with the man he saved to his Facebook page. (Facebook)

While Martel-Bahoéli was able to save a man from choking, another was not so fortunate the next day at a different restaurant.

A 70-year-old man died on Tuesday evening at the restaurant Chez Jules, on Ste-Anne Street in Quebec City.

Local police said food became lodged in the man’s throat and, even though people on the scene were able to dislodge it, he was unconscious when ambulance technicians arrived. CPR was performed on the way to hospital, but he did not survive.

One rescuer per 50 employees

In Quebec, businesses must ensure that at least one employee in 50 is trained in first aid.

Quebec’s Health Ministry encourages the public to take CPR training and offers a 30-minute training course in collaboration with the Heart and Stroke Foundation called the Hero in 30 Training Course: CPR Without Mouth-to-Mouth Ventilation.

The course teaches participants how to rapidly respond when a person chokes, collapses suddenly or suffers from cardiac arrest.

But Quebec should go further by making it a requirement, Bergeron said. And he’s not alone in that belief. 

jocelyn bergeron - Should first aid training be mandatory in Quebec?
Jocelyn Bergeron, director of a Quebec City first-aid training organization, says first-aid classes should be mandatory in the province. (Radio-Canada)

Martin Bernier, a paramedic who teaches first aid in Quebec City, says learning first aid is a social responsibility and a moral obligation. 

“Usually people take courses because they have to because of work, but socially the responsibility should be higher than that,” Bernier told CBC News. 

“The chance of survival is in the first minute. So the more quickly people react, more people have the chance to rehabilitate.”

A small investment must be made to take a first aid class, but that small amount of money could save somebody’s life, he said.

When it comes to training every employee of a restaurant, however, the Quebec Restaurant Association says it’s too expensive.

A spokesperson for the association said that with high turnover in the industry, training everyone would be too costly.

They said that while the association is in favour of greater first aid awareness, one trained employee per 50 is sufficient to ensure the safety of both workers and customers.

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