How BigRed’s little sister teaches life saving skills

By Gordon Williams

It isn’t that BigRed — the high-tech Red Cross training manikin — is out of a job. The Red Cross still teaches life-saving skills to more than 9 million people each year, and interactive manikins play a key role in the teaching process. But BigRed does have a new sidekick — a single-use manikin that is cheaper and more suitable to the age of Covid-19.  

Red Cross instructors teach classes in dozens of subjects — from water safety to pet health. But the core of Red Cross training is in first aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED).  

Many people take these courses voluntarily to gain and improve the skills that can save lives at medical emergencies. But many people sign up because such skills are required on the job. One example, says Megan Elliott, a Red Cross strategic account executive in Seattle, is Amazon which wants someone trained in CPR for every 50 employees. When students complete the Red Cross training, their skills are tested. If they pass the test, they are certified as proficient.  

Not long ago all the Red Cross safety classes were done face-to-face, with students and teachers meeting in person in a classroom. Testing was done in the classroom with the teacher on scene to grade the effort. 

The first Red Cross move away from in-house training only was to offer “blended” training. The classes would be taught remotely by computer. To gain certification, students would then come to the classroom for an hour of face-to-face testing. Elliott says that in addition to making it easier for people to study these skills, blended training cut the time needed to train and certify from six to three hours.  

As innovative as blended training was, it ran headlong into the strictures posed by Covid-19. Students could study safely at home, but still needed a face-to-face session for testing and certification.  

That’s where BigRed comes into the picture. It’s a high-tech marvel, costing around $500 each and filled with electronics. Students being tested apply compression. “When the compression is done right, red lights on the manikin light up,” Elliott says. When the manikin senses that blood is flowing to the brain, Elliott says, “The entire forehead of the manikin turns red and stays red.” 

One answer was to ship BigRed manikins to students needing certification. They would use Big Red to demonstrate their skills online. But BigRed is a costly and somewhat fragile item to be shipped around the country.

The next step was to find a cheaper alternative to sending BigRed all over the map. The answer, says Elliott, was to create the new and lower-cost single-use manikin. 

The device is small when shipped but is then inflated for use. The testing is then done online, with the instructor able to watch the student in action. There are no lights to light up when compression is applied correctly. “There is a click when you do it right,” says Elliott. There is a clip-on attachment to simulate the use of a defibrillator and two internal plastic bags to simulate lungs. 

Students pay $35 for the new manikin. Once the class and testing is done, the student owns the manikin. “You can’t send it back to the Red Cross,” Elliott says, “but it is reusable. You can use it to train family members or co-workers or even to improve your own skill set.” 

Using the new manikins enables the Red Cross to offer training that is totally remote. That removes any risk of contagion, and it offers other advantages to both students and teachers. “We can extend the reach of Red Cross training to remote sites and high-security sites,” Elliott says.  

You can sign up for Red Cross life-saving training online at redcross.org. Once signed up, you will get instruction to take part in the course from your computer. And you will get to meet the newest member of the Red Cross teaching corps — LittleRed, the “kid brother” manikin, ready to be inflated and put to use. 

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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