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Red Cross Retrospective: Teaching Skills That Save Lives

  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    A first aid demonstration to 800 employees of the Union Pacific shops (on company time) in 1926. A two-man Red Cross first aid demo crew made virtually a complete circuit of the country by rail between 1926 and 1929.
  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    In a campaign to reduce accidents among its employees and to train employees to handle all emergencies, United Air Lines provides on-the job training in Red Cross first aid for all ground personnel.
  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    January 1942. Boston, Massachusetts. Schooled in First Aid, the Motor Corps women apply compresses to head wounds and affix a head bandage.
  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    June 1950. State highway patrolmen and police in 46 out of 48 states have first aid instruction as a part of their training and many are authorized as Red Cross mobile first aid units. Here a Missouri State Patrolman checks his first aid equipment.
  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    August 1965. Hammondsport, New York. Aquatic School -- To the Rescue! Three persons training in Red Cross lifesaving techniques show how they go to the rescue with torpedo buoys. American Red Cross photo by Rudolph Vetter.
  • Teaching Skills That Save Lives
    Commodore Longfellow saw the need for a nationwide program of swimming and lifesaving training. He engaged in a one-man crusade with devotion and enthusiasm for 33 years in the nationwide water safety program of the Red Cross.
Millions turn to Red Cross for training.

For more than a century, the American Red Cross has been providing people with the knowledge and skills they need to act if an emergency occurs. Today, especially during National Preparedness Month, the Red Cross helps people continue to save lives by responding to emergencies using skills they learned in Red Cross training.

BE PREPARED Responding to disasters over the years, especially large catastrophes like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods has taught the lesson that the combined resources of the government and community organizations are not enough. Households, businesses, schools and other organizations should be prepared for emergencies both large and small.

Each year, nearly 3 million people learn how to prepare for disasters by attending disaster education presentations. The Red Cross has recently developed a series of mobile apps that provide users with information on what to do before, during and after emergencies wherever and whenever they need it. To date, Red Cross apps have been downloaded more than 5 million times.

Ready Rating™ is a free, web-based program designed to help businesses, organizations and schools become better prepared for emergencies. Members complete a self assessment of their current readiness level and receive immediate, customized feedback with resources to improve their scores. Be Red Cross Ready is an online tutorial that includes a customizable emergency supply checklist and a “Prepare 4” game.

FIRST AID Prompted by the startling number of accidental deaths, the Red Cross created its First Aid department more than one hundred years ago and named Major Charles Lynch its director on October 9, 1909. The following year, the Pullman Company donated a railroad car for the Red Cross to use around the country as a classroom for first aid instruction.

According to an historical account of Red Cross First Aid activities, more than 98,000 accidental deaths occurred in 1934. The Red Cross First Aid department trained thousands of instructors, including members of police and fire departments, telephone and other utility companies and commercial groups. There were as many as 8,000 instructors registered and most were volunteers.

Today, more than 6.5 million people a year receive training and information in First Aid, water safety and other skills that help save lives. Online and in-class courses are available for those in the workplace or schools, professional responders and healthcare providers, as well as the general public. Go to for information and to register.

WATER SAFETY At the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of people dying from drowning was mounting and had the potential to become a national tragedy unless new safety initiatives were soon introduced. Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow saw the need for a nationwide program of swimming and lifesaving training and engaged in a one-man crusade to see this occur.

In 1912, he enlisted the full participation of the Red Cross to ensure the success of his "waterproofing of America" plan. On February 1, 1914, Longfellow began the Red Cross Water Safety program.

During the next 33 years, Longfellow worked with devotion and enthusiasm in the nationwide water safety program of the Red Cross. The results were astonishing: He saw the nation's drowning rate cut in half and witnessed a tremendous upsurge in the popularity of swimming, boating and other water activities, to the point where an estimated 80 million Americans were participating in some form of aquatic recreation.

After 100 years, the Red Cross water safety program can point to a proud record. Water safety instruction authorizations have been issued to thousands of trained and qualified persons who, in turn, have taught courses enabling the Red Cross to issue millions of certificates in swimming and lifeguarding to individuals successfully completing its courses

Today millions of people take swimming classes and follow Red Cross information on how to stay safe around the water. Fact sheets are available on Home Pool Safety, Choosing a Safe Place to Swim, Responding to a Water Emergency, Watching Children around Water, Water Safety in the Home and other topics. Red Cross training is also available for becoming a lifeguard with special classes for lifeguards who work on waterfronts or in water parks.

Earlier this year, the Red Cross launched a new national campaign to reduce the drowning rate by 50 percent in 50 cities over the next three to five years. To mark its 100 years of swimming safety education, the Red Cross is planning to teach 50,000 more people in the 50 selected cities across 19 states how to swim, and is urging people across the country to make sure that they and their families can swim.

Part of the vision of the American Red Cross is to ensure our communities are ready and prepared for disasters, and that there are always trained individuals available to use their Red Cross skills to save lives in an emergency. Red Cross Preparedness and Health and Safety Services works tirelessly to see that this vision is fulfilled.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.