Phil Webb was astonished that it took only two minutes to learn how to save a life.
The Oxnard resident was a participant in a multiagency, countywide effort Tuesday to teach people the value of hands-only CPR.
"It was easy to do and took not time at all, and I got great advice," Webb said shortly after learning the lifesaving lesson at the Pacific View mall in Ventura.
He was among hundreds of people who learned CPR or brushed up on their knowledge as part of "sidewalk" CPR sessions organized at 10 locations across Ventura County. The sessions were put on by Ventura County Emergency Medical Services Agency and the American Heart Association, with help from nurses and emergency responders.
Webb and others learned the simple two-step technique, practicing on mannequins and receiving information on where they can go if they want to become fully certified.
Steve Carroll, EMS administrator for the county's emergency medical services, said 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act when they witness a cardiac arrest because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has lapsed.
"This alarming statistic could hit very close to home, because home is exactly where 80 percent of cardiac arrests occur," he said.
Jim Barrowman, of Toronto, Canada, was visiting the area. He hadn't taken a CPR class in 15 years and had forgotten many of the steps. That rust in knowledge would have discouraged him to intervene if someone needed CPR, he said.
"I would have been too nervous, too panicky," he said. "I hope I never have to use this, but I feel confident that I can help someone."
Doctor Angelo Salvucci, medical director for the Ventura County Public Health Department, said emergency medical groups have been looking to increase survival rates from sudden cardiac arrest but have realized in the past five years that mouth-to-mouth often is unnecessary because lungs and blood contain enough oxygen to keep vital organs healthy for the first few minutes after a person has gone into cardiac arrest.
Chest compressions provide the necessary blood flow to improve survival chances until paramedics arrive, he said.
"That realization is what has enabled sidewalk CPR events like this," he said. "We've realized that you no longer need four hours of training on the philosophy and mechanics of CPR with extensive steps when for most people, compression is the most effective approach."
He said chest-compression-only CPR administered by bystanders outside a hospital setting has increased the number of lives saved.
Every year in Ventura County, roughly 600 people collapse from sudden cardiac arrest. Only one in three bystanders administers CPR. A person who receives CPR from a bystander is three times more likely to survive, Salvucci said.
"We're asking people to take five minutes out of your life to learn how to potentially save a life," he said.
David Endaya, assistant Fire Chief for the city of Ventura, said hands-only CPR has encouraged more public participation.
"We're technically the first responders, but in reality, the true first responders are people who are willing to administer these lifesaving techniques from the time of the emergency until we arrive," he said. "My 10-year-old daughter has taught CPR, so people are realizing that this is not a grown-up skill. It can be done by virtually anyone."
Carolyn Ann Johnson, of Lompoc, learned the hands-only method from firefighter Elias Barnes.
She asked him if she really only had to clasp her hands and push down between the nipples on the mannequin's chest area.
Barnes retired from nursing eight years ago, having started her training during World War II.
"This is so simple," she said. "What's more simple is that the more people who know how to do this, the more lives that are going to be saved."