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Miami-Dade Fire Rescue delivers life-saving training to mosque groups

HELP training is a new program offered to houses of worship and religious community groups


Miami-Dade Fire Paramedic Lieutenant Kristian Garcia conducts CPR at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami-Masji.

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By Lauren Costantino
Miami Herald

MIAMI — “Imam! Imam! We need to call 911.”

One of the members of Masjid-E-Khaleel, a mosque in Davie, had just collapsed during a recent Friday prayer. Imam Zakaria Badat, who was leading the prayer, looked out to see a man lying on the floor, holding his stomach. He called to see if there was a medical doctor in the crowd, then dialed 911.

“After 10-15 minutes, which seemed like an hour, 911 came,” said Badat.

With the help of the emergency medical services rescue team, the man ended up being okay, but the story stuck with Badat, who drove to Miami Gardens Tuesday evening to participate in an emergency health workshop led by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami.

The new two-hour program, called Health Emergency Life Protection (HELP), is designed to train the public on how to be prepared for emergency health situations. Using a small group, hands-on training model, participants learn life-saving techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), early stroke recognition and how to stop excessive bleeding.

“The knowledge we’re going to give you is an amazing piece of knowledge that hopefully you never have to use,” Miami-Dade Fire Paramedic Lt. Kristian Garcia told about a dozen people upstairs at the mosque. “Some of these stories are a little bit tough to hear, but I want this embedded in your brain. We can save lives.”

Minutes can make a difference

If there was one takeaway from the stories shared in the training, it’s that recognizing and responding to life-threatening situations can save lives, even if rescue workers are on their way.

“Our Fire Rescue Department is going to get there as fast as we possibly can,” said Shanti Hall, EMS division chief at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “But there are many emergencies where a matter of minutes make a difference.”

In cases involving cardiac arrests, immediate bystander CPR can double or triple the chance of survival in an out-of- hospital setting, according to the American Heart Association.

“With stakes so high, we recognized that by giving our community the skills to identify and render aid when a medical emergency occurs, we could be saving lives,” said Miami-Dade Fire Chief Ray Jadallah.

Fire Rescue initially developed the training for the professional staff at the fire department, and it’s now branching out to the public —starting with religious institutions. Houses of worship are community hubs where large crowds of all ages gather regularly. So, they are prime locations for emergency training courses such as HELP, where the goal is to reach as many people as possible.

“We are looking at a crowd of a lot of people, especially when we have our Eids,” said Tehsin Siddiqui, president of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations and a physician assistant at UHI CommunityCare Clinic, a free health clinic in Miami Gardens. “We are looking at thousands of people.”

The program was brought to the mosque after conversations between the clinic and the coalition.

The organizations reached out to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. After a quick visit to the clinic and support from Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava’s office, the program took off.

Anyone, even those with zero medical knowledge, can participate in the training and come away with life-saving information. Here’s a rundown of what participants learned:

Early stroke recognition

The HELP training team walked the class through the early signs and symptoms of when someone is having a stroke, a medical emergency where fast treatment is crucial.

Participants were taught to use the acronym BE FAST (balance, eyes, face, arms, speech and time). That means looking for a loss of balance or dizziness, changes in vision, facial drooping, weakness or numbness and trouble speaking — and call 911 immediately if you see these signs.

Garcia stressed the longer a person’s brain goes without oxygen, the more damage is done. Early stroke recognition means the victim can be treated earlier, which can lead to a better recovery.

Stop the bleed

When someone is experiencing serious arterial bleeding, which happens when a major artery is ruptured and is characterized by fast spurts of blood, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue recommends using a tourniquet.

The class practiced using military grade, Velcro tourniquets — the same the department uses. They placed them on an arm or leg, tightening the straps, to stop the bleeding using pressure. It’s best if the tourniquet as high up as possible on the limbs. If the tourniquet is used correctly, it can greatly increase a person’s chance of surviving a bleed.

CPR, automatic external defibrillator

CPR, combined with using an external defibrillator, gives someone the best chance of surviving cardiac arrest. The program focused on teaching hands-only CPR, meaning no mouth-to-mouth, only chest compressions. CPR is used when a person’s heart has stopped beating and they are unresponsive. The first action is to shout for help, call 911 and get a defibrillator, if available.

Participants were taught how to check for breathing and give chest compressions using the heel of one hand to help pump blood to the heart and brain. They were given their own adult and child mannequin to practice. Tip: it’s better to push down hard and fast in the center of the chest, at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.

Choking in adults, children

People were taught how to help someone who is choking or experiencing a blocked airway by using abdominal thrusts or the Heimlich maneuver. MDFR also went into detail about how to help a child or infant who is choking, which uses a different technique and hand placement.

The workshop concluded with a certificate of completion and an expression of gratitude from Khalid Mirza, president of the clinic and board chair of Muslim Communities Association of South Florida.

“This is, to me, a very very blessed moment.” Mirza said about the training. “Hopefully, we can do more, so we can train more people to save lives.”

For more information

If you want to contact Miami-Dade Fire Rescue about hosting a HELP training course at your organization, call 786-331-4425 or email

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