tKetchikan’s Tongass Towers on the corner of Tongass Avenue and Austin Street (KRBD photo/Raegan Miller).

A CPR class coming to Ketchikan later this month is aiming to certify Filipino residents. The Ketchikan Wellness Coalition class aims to ensure residents can help their neighbors or family members in an emergency. That’s a skill even more necessary in two of Ketchikan’s biggest apartment buildings, where it’s difficult or impossible to access a defibrillator.

The Ketchikan Wellness Coalition is celebrating National Heart Health month with an upcoming CPR class.

Alma Parker leads the coalition’s “Strengthening Cultural Unity” task force. She said this class specifically targets Filipino residents who speak multiple languages. If a bilingual person is CPR-certified, Parker said they can help others who don’t speak English while waiting for first responders in an emergency.

“Having bilingual (people) in different dialects (become certified) would also be ideal, because Tagalog is the national language, but there are so many different dialects of those who are from the Philippines,” Parker said. “So that would be in the perfect world.”

In particular, the coalition wants to see more CPR-certified Filipino people in Ketchikan’s biggest apartment buildings, Tongass Towers and Marine View Condominiums. A majority of the residents in both buildings are of Asian descent, according to 2020 Census data, and together, they’re home to about 30% of Ketchikan’s Asian-American community. 

“Those are highly dense populations of Filipinos (who) live there,” Parker said. “And we felt it was necessary to ensure that there was a CPR trained resident in the building. So in case there is an emergency, we would be able to find and locate individuals who are CPR trained. I also don’t even know if there’s an AED in these buildings as well.” 

An AED is an automated external defibrillator. It’s a device that allows people with just a bit of training to shock someone’s heart back into rhythm. 

Neither of the two buildings has one, according to Ketchikan Fire Department officials, nor are they required to. But they can make it dramatically more likely that someone survives after their heart stops. For every minute that someone goes without a defibrillator, their chances of survival go down about 10%, according to the Red Cross.

A manager at the Marine View building confirmed there were no AEDs in that building, and was not aware of the devices ever being in the building. A manager at Tongass Towers declined to comment.

Ketchikan Fire Department Chief Rick Hines said CPR is the best way to keep someone alive until there’s an AED available. 

“And it’s in the hopes of keeping blood circulating, keeping the heart oxygenated and irritated enough that it will stay in that rhythm until an AED can get there, or a defibrillator can get there and try to shock them,” Hines explained.

Hines noted that when someone becomes CPR certified, it’s more likely than not that they’ll have to use that skill one day. And he said, most times, it’s a family member who needs help.

“We talk about having a plan for the fires or fire escape plans, or what we’re going to do if this happens, but I think also it’s worth mentioning, what happens if you’re with your parent, and they start showing signs and symptoms of a stroke, or signs and symptoms of a heart attack?” Hines said. “What’s your plan? How do you anticipate acting?”

Hines said every second counts. Typically, he would expect first responders to make it to one of the buildings from the downtown station in roughly six minutes.

But that doesn’t count the time it takes to get the crew and equipment to the right floor.

“One of the things to factor in is elevator availability: how long it takes to call the elevator, how many stops the elevator makes going up to the floors,” he said. “And that certainly can make the time to make it to the top floor of that building longer than the time it takes to actually respond to that building.”

That’s one of the reasons the Wellness Coalition is working to certify more residents. And Parker said a similar CPR class last month yielded promising results. 

“Our first CPR class was held at the Plaza that we recruited and solicited people to come and join the class that were of Filipino descent who specifically spoke Tagalog,” she explained. “So we could have some bilingual, CPR fully trained first aid and CPR community members in our lovely town of Ketchikan.” 

So Parker said it’s important that as many people as possible arm themselves with the knowledge to save their neighbors’ and family members’ lives. The more certified residents, the better

“Having one in a high rise, such as Marine View or Tongass Towers, it would be difficult if, you know, that person’s at work or whatnot,” she said. “So having multiple individuals in those locations being trained would be ideal.”

During the last class hosted by the coalition, eight Filipino residents became CPR-certified. Four of those people also spoke Tagalog. Some were kids, and Parker noted she’d like to see more young people in future classes.

Parker said she’s surprised there aren’t AEDs in the two buildings. She said the coalition’s health equity programs, like the Sama Sama Tayo program, might be able to help. 

The program is dedicated to improving the health of Filipino residents and changing the health care system to better serve the community. The class is also part of the “Hats off to Health” series of events.

“So it really is something–  that having AEDs, knowing how to properly use them — is a goal of the Wellness Coalition, and particularly in this grant that we are working under to ensure health care, access and in our community is equal for everyone,” she said.

She said trying to place AEDs in the building is something her organization would consider, but the devices also need upkeep and maintenance. So in the meantime, the coalition is pushing hard to get the lifesaving knowledge of CPR into the hands of as many people as possible.

The next CPR class is Feb. 19 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m in the Ketchikan High School library. It costs $80 to receive a certification for CPR and using an AED on adults and infants. Anyone can register, but preference is given to bilingual Filipino people living in Tongass Towers or Marine View Condominiums. 

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to correct that a previous CPR class was held last year.

Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at