Julie Gallagher has been teaching free CPR classes at the Armonk firehouse for six years. Gallagher is the Byram Hills High School nurse, a local mom of four, and a volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician (“EMT”) with the Armonk Fire Department. CPR, which stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. According to the American Heart Association, immediate CPR can double or triple chances of survival after cardiac arrest.
Gallagher was a hospital nurse for twenty years before she came to Byram Hills as a school nurse. She was inspired to offer free CPR classes six years ago during her firefighter training when trainees were asked to ponder how to make their communities safer. Having taught CPR through the American Heart Association for ten years prior to that, she decided that offering CPR classes was something she could do to make her community safer.
On a recent February evening, Gallagher was surprised to see 20 new emails in her inbox inquiring about her CPR class. Initially confused about the sudden peak in interest, she discovered that a local resident who had just taken the class raved about it in a social media post in the Armonk Parents Facebook group.
The two-hour class, which is offered the first Thursday of every month at the Armonk firehouse, 7-9 p.m., or a maximum of 10 people, quickly booked up into May and felt like it had become the hottest ticket in town after the social media shout-out.
Gina DeCrescenzo, the local resident who praised the class in her Facebook post said, “I decided to take the class because we have a 9-month-old at home and the idea of not knowing how to save his life if something happened is inconceivable. I saw the class advertised outside of the firehouse and thought “why not?”
Gallagher teaches “Bystander CPR,” specifically taught for situations where there is no available doctor or nurse or you are not in a healthcare facility. The class is available to anyone over 12 years of age as students must be strong enough to complete the skills. A decent amount of strength is required to successfully complete chest compressions which involves the ability to push down two inches into the chest cavity repeatedly over a sustained period. Students must also have the agility to get down on the floor to do the work.
“Bystander CPR saves lives because they know what to do, they know what to look for, and they get their hands on people right away and that can actually make the difference regarding whether someone survives or not,” explains Gallagher. “The most important part is doing it before the ambulance comes. When we come, we are going to do everything we need to do but if nothing was done or if it was done improperly, then there’s no circulation to the brain and when that starts going past five minutes, there’s permanent brain damage done that cannot be reversed.”
The Armonk Fire Department is a volunteer fire department so oftentimes, the firefighters are being paged at home. Upon receiving a page, they drive to the firehouse, get on the apparatus, and drive to the scene. “If there’s no CPR done for five to seven minutes,” warns Gallagher, “that person’s chances of survival are very slim.”
According to Armonk Fire Department Second Assistant Chief Terence Carthy, the average response time of the first arriving unit, usually a Chief, from January 1, 2021 to March 5, 2022 was 3:38:57. “The ambulance or fire truck is usually going to be about three to six minutes behind a Chief, depending on the location of the incident,” says Carthy.
“I’m really passionate about teaching this amazing life-saving skill and it can make such a difference as to whether someone survives or not,” says Gallagher.
“I teach a lot of new moms and dads, which I love,” she says. Many new parents are concerned about choking but all students get the full class which includes adult and infant CPR, choking, and how to use an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). This class does not automatically provide an official certification, but Gallagher can help submit paperwork and facilitate certification upon request and payment of required fees for people who need a certification card.
“Julie was extremely impressive and the class taught me CPR in a way that I never understood or appreciated it before,” says DeCrescenzo. “She starts out saying that the emergency response time here in Armonk can be up to 7-10 minutes and there is little to no chance someone would survive if they were unresponsive without proper CPR being done until medics arrive. If that is not a reason to go to this class and learn these skills, nothing is! It would be amazing if all our residents would take this class so that if someone stops breathing at a local park or in DeCiccos, for example, we could have a real chance to help each other, to save a life!”
The free CPR class is just one of the amazing community programs provided by the Fire Department. Carthy, who has been part of the department since 2012, organizes firehouse tours for school children and groups like the boy scouts and girl scouts in the community. The biggest annual event takes place in the Spring in partnership with the preschool association. About 150 students cycle through in small groups over the course of two days. This effort requires careful coordination and extra dedication from the fire department as there must be ample members available to respond to emergency calls while the tours are ongoing. The tours include demonstrations, an overview of fire safety, and letting the kids interact closely and familiarize themselves with the firefighters so that they can trust them if they are ever in a fire.
“We let them go into the fire trucks with the lights on, spray a firefighter with a water can, and give them a general overview of how the fire department works,” explains Carthy. “We often try and accomplish a dual objective and show the parents what we are all about as a volunteer agency because so many people think we are a paid department and are expecting a paid service. Ultimately, one of our biggest goals besides education is recruitment because we rely on a lot of people giving a little bit of time.”
Besides these programs, Gallagher also teaches first aid classes to local Scout groups and holds babysitting courses upon request.
The Fire Department Family
Volunteering with the Armonk Fire Department is a great source of pride and very rewarding for its members. They are always looking to recruit new members.
Gallagher decided to join the Fire Department six years ago because she wanted an “empty nest plan” for when her youngest graduated high school. Looking for something to do with the extra time on her hands, she got her EMT certification and then dove in head first and became a firefighter.
“I absolutely love my fire department family; they are right up there with my family,” says Gallagher. “It’s an incredible group of giving people who give tremendous amount of time to making sure that this town stays safe. Any time of the night or day, we drag ourselves out of bed and go to somebody’s house and it’s just amazing that people do that and then get up and go to work the next day. I’m hoping I can do it for a lot longer. Every day is a gift.”
“Every single one of us has a full-time job, many of us have kids, people have demanding schedules working jobs in downtown Manhattan and still are able to do it because we work with people to find the time in their schedule,” says Carthy. “I think most people who join the department end up loving it.”
“You join to help people but that’s not what gets you going at 3 a.m. when you’re on your third night call,” says Carthy. “At that point, you’re doing it because you care about the Armonk Fire Department as an entity being successful. We take a lot of pride in covering our calls. Other departments in the community will call us because they unfortunately are not always able to cover their calls. We never have that problem.”
Carthy encourages anyone who may be interested to stop by the firehouse to talk more in-depth about joining and to get a realistic sense of the commitment.