A five-year-old boy saved his mother’s life because he knew to call 18 when she fell, could not get up again and was unable to speak to him.
He was able to tell the sapeurs-pompiers his address, his age, his mother’s age and describe what happened to her.
The officer who took the emergency call, Corporal Jessie, said the boy was able to do what he was asked over the phone so he told him to put his hand in front of his mother’s mouth to feel if she was breathing.
He was able to confirm that she was not, so the emergency services knew she had had a heart attack.
The boy’s prompt actions and calmness meant firefighters arrived in time to bring her back to consciousness and save her life.
Corporal Jessie said that this one incident alone shows that everyone should be taught the emergency numbers at the earliest possible age.
Firefighters stress that making sure even very young children know the emergency number and their own address can save lives.
Basic obligatory first aid programmes are available in school.
At primary level, pupils must learn how to call the emergency services and how to recognise whether a person is conscious or unconscious, as part of the Apprendre à porter secours programme. At collège, pupils should all receive a two-hour module (called Gestes qui sauvent), teaching life-saving skills, such as heart massage and how to stop heavy bleeding.
Last September, the government promised that all students in 3ème (age 14-15) would receive this first aid teaching by 2022.
It is not clear whether that will mean more lessons or a promise that everyone will get the basic two hours. In some lycées and collèges, pupils can ask for training towards a PSC1 first aid certificate.
Beyond school, efforts are being made to improve the public’s first aid education as there is a lower than 10% survival rate for the 40,000 people who have a sudden heart attack every year.
In other northern European countries, the survival rate is between 20% and 30%.
It is important that more people know what to do while waiting for emergency services to arrive.
The first four minutes are vital to avoid irreversible consequences, and each further minute reduces a victim’s chances of survival by 10%.
Around 9% of deaths in France are caused by heart attacks, 10 times higher than those from road accidents. Recently, MPs in France voted in favour of legislation designed to educate 80% of the population in first aid by the end of President Macron’s current mandate in 2022.
The hope is that educating more people will save 3,000 lives, by introducing a new, short training session and creating “life-saving citizen” status for those with training, who could be rapidly identified and called upon in an emergency.
There would be continual access to first aid education during a person’s life: at school, in further education, during driving lessons, at work and during retirement.
This bill now has to pass through the Senate before becoming law.
There are also opportunities for learning basic first aid with a number of organisations.
After the terrorist attacks in France, the government introduced free two-hour sessions organised by prefectures, which teach the emergency numbers, cardiac massage, how to use a defibrillator and how to apply a tourniquet (garrot in French).
There is also a clear video explaining these actions: dailymotion.com/video/x3r3tx8. You can find out if your local prefecture is running sessions. Some seem to be more active than others, with courses still being run in several areas but not all.
Many prefectures give lists of organisations which run other first aid courses open to the public.
Both the sapeurs-pompiers and Croix Rouge teach a day-long basic course which shows you how to react if someone loses consciousness, has a burn, faints, suffocates, haemorrhages or has a heart attack.
It is available from age 10, lasts seven hours and costs €50-€65.
At the end you are awarded the Prévention et secours civiques de niveau 1 (PSC1) certificate. The sapeurs-pompiers train 100,000 people a year and the Croix Rouge 900,000 a year for the PSC1.
The Croix Rouge also run 1h30 initiation courses from age 10. They cost €10 and teach what to do when you find yourself with an unconscious person.
Various organisations are also authorised to teach the PASC1 and other first aid courses and there is a list of these on gouvernement.fr under premiers secours.
You can test your knowledge and learn by playing a game created by the firefighters at sauvequiveut.fr.
Free Emergency Numbers
- 112 – For all situations
This operates in all EU countries plus Israel, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Switzerland.
- 18 – Sapeur-pompiers
This is for accidents, fires and emergency health situations when lives are in danger
- 15 – Samu
For urgent health problems, advice from a doctor
- 17 – Police
For attack, theft, burglary etc
- 114 – If you have difficulty speaking or hearing as you can communicate by text or fax
The sapeurs-pompiers have called for a single number in France, as they recognise it is complicated remembering so many. “Choosing the right number is like filling in a bingo card,” said the president of the Fédération Nationale des Sapeurs-Pompiers.
Colonel Eric Faure says it would be much simpler to use just the 112 number, as around 10 other European countries have already chosen to do.