People need to be prepared for disaster and emergency situations at a moment’s notice. The question is not IF something is going to happen, but rather WHEN is something going to happen – and What. Will you be prepared? Jeanie Edwards is an experienced EMT who has been involved in disaster preparedness, first aid training, and service since she was a young girl. Now, she is using her encyclopedia of knowledge to help as many people prepare for any and every sort of disaster or emergency situation through her informative websites and teachings.
Medical emergencies or traumas, and disasters of all kinds and sizes, are a part of the human experience about which none of us want to truly think. However, when it comes to life, it is never a question of IF something is going to happen, but WHEN. Being prepared for disaster can be the difference between life or death in so many situations, so it is essential that everyone has some kind of knowledge of procedure and technique when it comes to disaster strikes.
Jeanie Edwards has worked within multiple healthcare and disaster-related facilities since she was just 12 years old; when she first became a volunteer at the American Red Cross despite the minimum age requirement of being 18. She has never been one to shy away from a challenge, especially when it came to becoming experienced in disaster preparedness. Not only has she acquired the knowledge of handling emergency situations, but has always worked to educate those around her to ensure as many people are as prepared as possible when disaster occurs.
Jeanie says, “There are people who teach First Aid and CPR, and some people talk about disaster preparedness and have developed products to use in disasters. I have never been able to separate the two areas. In a disaster situation, whether it is natural or man-made, people often get injured.”
“In larger disasters, rural areas, bad weather, or large venues, response time can take longer than most people realize. If someone is having a medical emergency or is injured, people need to know what to do until medical help arrives, and immediate medical attention can help save lives. So to me, disaster preparedness and first aid training go hand in hand.”
The individuals that shaped Jeanie’s life growing up played an integral role in shaping the professional she is today, and gave her the base knowledge on which she expanded, and eventually shared through her multiple educational preparedness websites: THE CPR GALS, Disaster Services and Supplies, and Disaster Preparedness Solutions (for small to medium sized businesses).
“My Grandparents moved to Pasadena in 1921, from Britain, and they became an old Pasadena family who knew everybody. My Grandfather was one of the first accountants certified in the state of California, so he was very well connected to almost everyone in the community. They had a major impact on my growing up when it came to giving back and being of service to the community.”
Besides her family, she found inspiration in two doctors, one of which was Dr. Charles Richter, who is known for developing the Richter scale, and Dr. Ellis Jones of Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH). Having these connections gave her the chance to learn a lot about earthquakes, their aftermath, other types of disasters, the human body, the cycle of life, and health in general.
When she was in high school, she became a junior volunteer (aka “candy striper”) at HMH. Junior volunteers were only allowed to work in a few areas in the hospital. All the volunteers would meet on weekend mornings to see where they would be assigned, juniors were not allowed to request specific assignments. Jeanie was always the last to be assigned. The Director of Volunteers would save her for last, since many of the ward clerks had requested Jeanie to come to their departments. The Director would sometimes send her to a particular area, and sometimes she would let Jeanie choose. Since Jeanie’s family was well known, and she had grown up with so many of the staff (Doctors, nurses, ward clerks, and others), they all knew her work ethic and willingness to do whatever was needed.
She also was eager to learn, and was taught duties such as charting, running various machines, wound care, and much more. This would not even be possible in today’s world!
Jeanie’s introduction into healthcare and emergency work also allowed her to witness the creation of many life-saving programs that are still used today nationally.
“Dr. Ellis Jones was an incredible doctor who started his career working as a medic in Vietnam, during the war. When he came home, he became a doctor, and worked his way up to become the head of the emergency department at Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH). He introduced the concept of a trauma center to the hospital, which was later implemented.
Approximately 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 October 1972, faulty scaffolding on a 60 foot section of wood and steel scaffolding of the Foothill Freeway project collapsed while concrete was being poured for the bridge over the Arroyo Seco (connecting Pasadena and La Canada), crushing victims who were under the construction at the time of the collapse. Around 500 rescue workers labored throughout the night to locate missing workers who were buried under six feet of concrete. The collapse seriously injured 21 workmen, 6 of them fatally.
Prior to this incident, Dr. Jones would often meet with his medic buddies with whom he worked in Vietnam creating a program where people could be medically treated out in the field, which had not been done before this. If you were sick or in an accident, you would be picked up by two men in white coats driving a white station wagon who would transport you to the hospital for treatment. Administering treatment in the field was not a part of the process, which Dr. Jones was determined to change.
The day of the freeway collapse was complete chaos. After things began to settle down, he was furious due to the fact that there were people who died in the field, who might have been saved if there were people in the field administering treatment right away. Dr. Jones and his team of veteran friends proceeded to go to city hall to demand that their program be put into place.
After a 6 month trial and training of workers, many lives were saved because of pre-hospital care. The program went to the state where another 6 month trial took place, providing enough evidence for it to be implemented on a national level. So Dr. E. was one of a handful of men who took part in building what is now the paramedic program in this country,” Jeanie explained.
Having these two doctors play such a crucial role in Miss Edwards’ upbringing within the health and safety field worked as a major source of inspiration to do whatever was necessary to get people the training and the help they need; arguably becoming the initial spark for her own current online projects that work to help everyone.
“People need to know what to do in times of disaster, whether that means natural disaster, random accident, health emergency, or anything else that requires emergency services, there needs to be more knowledge and education distributed to the average citizen so that they at least have some basic understanding of procedures when a disaster strikes.”
Another crucial part of her upbringing was her involvement with organizations like the American Red Cross.
“Growing up, I was allowed to help my Grandparents volunteer at the Pasadena Chapter. They were in the British Red Cross, and became American Red Cross volunteers shortly after moving here. I was allowed to help out when I was little, with simple things like sweeping the chapter floors, stuffing envelopes for mailers (and licking stamps, too), and helping serve refreshments to the ladies who met monthly to knit and crochet blankets for families in need.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I wanted to become an ‘official’ volunteer, but you had to be 18. So I kept asking and got to become ‘official’ when I turned 12! Since my birthday was on a weekend, the ceremony was held a few days later. My Grandparents were very proud that day – 01 August 1968! I also took my first CPR class that month.
A year later, Jeanie had one of her first hands-on experiences dealing with an emergency that emphasized the trajectory she was on when it came to helping saving lives and helping others prepare for disaster.
“In August the following year, I went and renewed my CPR and First Aid which was an annual thing back then. A month or so later, I woke up in the middle of the night by yelling and screaming and loud bangs. As I opened my eyes in that half awake, half asleep stage, I saw a reddish, orangish, yellowish glow on my bedroom walls. Moments later, I heard another loud bang, more yelling, jumped out of bed to look out my window, and realized the house next door was on fire.
I ran downstairs to the phone and called the Fire Department (this was when people still had house phones, and before the 911 system was implemented). As I was dialing the number, I was trying to calm down by taking deep breaths so I could speak clearly to the dispatcher. When she answered, I gave my name, address, phone number, and told her the house next door was on fire. She told me to hang on, and when she came back on the line, she said the Fire Department was on the way. I then realized I knew her (I grew up with P.D. and F. D.) as she asked if I was alright. She said I could hang up and go outside to maybe help, but to be careful.
I was running on pure adrenaline and went outside to see what was happening. The older lady neighbor was half in half out her bedroom window with black smoke coming out and I could see flames. Other neighbors were yelling for her to jump and were ready to catch her.
I then realized her husband was laying on our front lawn on his back – in his underwear – not moving. I gave his foot a nudge with my foot to see if he was responsive and got no reaction. I got on the ground, got in position and checked if he was breathing or had a pulse. I found neither.
I attempted to give him a breath using mouth-to-mouth and watched his chest rise. I let him exhale, and gave him another breath. I thought this is cool, this is working! Since he was still not breathing, and did not have a pulse, I knew that compressions were the next step. I got my hands in position and leaned into him, and in that instance I heard a lot of cracking from my compression. I immediately freaked out because at this point I had taken two CPR certification classes and no one had ever mentioned feeling or hearing any cracking noises!
With tears running down my face, I kept going because I knew I could not kill him. At this point the fire department pulled up and the Captain yelled ‘Jeanie you’re doing a great job keep going,’ and the crew went to put out to the fire.
Within another few minutes, the guys in the white coats in the white station wagon arrived, put him on a gurney, loaded him up, and took him to HMH. As they were loading him, another crew came and took the older lady neighbor. She had jumped and badly damaged her leg and foot.
The fire was soon put out, and as the guys were putting away all the hoses, Cap came over to check on me. I was still crying and when he asked what happened, I told him I had broken our neighbor. He turned and yelled at the guys, ‘Hey, she broke him’, and they all started laughing.
I felt so overwhelmed and confused, I just started kicking and hitting him, and he kept laughing. Within a few minutes I experienced an adrenaline crash. My knees buckled, Cap caught me and sat me down on the steps to our porch. I explained what happened and he explained that all I experienced was normal ‘real world’ CPR, and I had done it right.
“That night I learned first hand how CPR actually works. You have to push the sternum against the heart against the backbone, and in order to do that you need to separate the sternum from the ribs, hence the cracking noise. In class, we hear the clicking on the mannequins, but no one explained what that meant. This type of crucial knowledge is just one example of how important proper life saving education is, and how everyone should be prepared for anything.”
“Cap also explained to me how frustrating it was that CPR classes did not discuss that specific experience, but the reality is when you hear and feel that cracking you know you are doing CPR correctly. In class they teach a specific number of inches you need to compress in order to be effective, however, every person is different. Our neighbor was 6 foot 6, and had a big barrel chest. To get his sternum to push his heart against his backbone, I had to compress at least 6 to 8 inches, which I did.
On the mannequins, the ‘clicking’ continues. I realized that on people, the ‘clicking’ stopped after a few compressions, depending on the individual. Cap explained that one you separate the sternum from the ribs by breaking the cartilage, the ‘clicking’ stops.
About two weeks after the fire, I got a call from Cap. We went for a ride to the hospital to visit the neighbor lady. Her leg was badly broken and was in traction. After some tears and some hugs, she told me that because of what I did, the ER staff was able to get her husband back, and he lived for another four hours before he died. I was upset but his wife was so comforting and told me they were able to say goodbye to each other. They had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few months before that night.”
This type of crucial knowledge is just one example of how important proper life saving education is, and how everyone should be prepared for anything.
Moments like these are what sparked the need to help others in Jeanie. As she progressed through high school and college, she never found a clear cut path for what she wanted to do with her life. She maintained her volunteer status with the Red Cross, and continued to re-certify her CPR and First Aid, but was trying to navigate what she truly wanted to do in life.
Jeanie recalled a moment in her life when she was driving on a cold and rainy day and witnessed a man who lost control of his vehicle, skidded, and crashed, ejecting him from the car. She immediately jumped into action, told a bystander who was out walking his dog to call for help, and began her assessment of the man.
She was administering CPR when the fire department arrived with two new EMTs and another Captain whom she had known for years. While she could tell the two “newbies” did not really know how to deal with her, she gave her report as she continued compressions.
“I remember once the victim was in the ambulance and on his way to the hospital, the 2 newbies were talking with Captain before getting back into the truck. They had their backs to me and I was back at my car, I could see Cap smiling. As he was about to get in the truck, he looked back and yelled at me ‘Edwards! When are you gonna become legal?’ and I thought, ‘… oh, I never thought of that.’”
“Edwards” went home and did some research, and within a couple of weeks enrolled at Pasadena City College’s summer EMT program. The program was 3 months, Monday through Friday from May to the first week in August. She rearranged her work schedule to be able to attend.
“On the first day of class there were around 100 kids. I sat in the back, next to the door. David White from LA County Fire was the instructor. He started calling roll, getting to my name, and as I said ‘here’, he looked up, staring at me with this sort of mysterious, but reaffirming glare, before quickly getting back to roll call.
During our first break, he called me up to the desk and asked ‘so you’re really gonna do this?’ and I replied, ‘well, yeah.’ It was one of those things that was almost so expected it was unexpected.
Two weeks into the program, there were about 80 of the original 100 kids remaining in the class. The thing about joining this type of program is you know by the end of it there is going to be far fewer people at the finish line than at the starting line, because the learning is very intense and requires a lot of commitment. Being an EMT is a tough job where lives are at stake and for some, the pressure can become overwhelming.
Week 2 was CPR week for the program. Dave started the class at 8 am, and about an hour later, one of his class assistants, Ian, who was an EMT, popped his head in the door and yelled at Dave and said, ‘I’m hungry, let’s go eat’. Dave looked around, pointed at me, and said, ‘Hey you, take over. Here is the book, the videos, and we will be back.'”
These moments in Jeanie’s life were pockets of time in which her overall purpose was coming into fruition. Not only was she becoming an expert in life saving techniques and procedures, but she was able to teach others from her own experiences, offering invaluable lessons of what it was really like to work in the field and help save lives during times of disaster.
“At this point in our program, the class became completely confused and concerned about ‘a student’ teaching the CPR and First Aid portion since they needed their certifications to pass the EMT class. What they did not know was that I had become an instructor and had been teaching with the Red Cross for several years. As Dave and Ian left, I just assumed the position and continued the class. By noon we were completely done with the lecture portion and ready to move onto the mannequin portion to practice the procedure.
Dave and Ian came waltzing in at this point and dismissing the class for our one hour lunch break. The guys had brought back lunch for me, and while we were eating, a few other assistants arrived to go over the practical scenarios for the skills portion.
Unlike a typical group CPR class, students were tested on their skills one at a time, with a couple of instructors in a room. One instructor gave scenarios for an adult, a child, and an infant, and the student had to say what he or she was doing, and why, as he or she was performing the skills. The other instructor(s) were watching and taking notes. After the skills test was completed, the student received feedback.
Several rooms were used, and as each student finished, he or she was sent back to the main classroom to study. This testing took several hours, and, of course, I got called in last. I walked in the room, and Dave, Ian, and the rest of the instructor assistants were all there. I was ready for anything, but was pleasantly surprised I did not have to perform. We spent my time doing a ‘debriefing’ on the lecture portion, my take on the students, and at the end, Dave did something very unexpected. He praised me for a job well done and informed me that these students had done extremely well on the skills drill and all passed.
By graduation day, there were about 18 students left in the class. This was also the day in which we received our CPR and First Aid certification cards. Dave called me up front, handed me the cards and told me to sign them as he proceeded to introduce me to the class as Jeanie Edwards, an American Red Cross CPR Instructor. (Those students who had dropped would get their cards in the mail.)
All the graduates were allowed to invite a guest or two for the graduation ceremony. I had invited my Grandparents, but my Grandfather said he was working and my Grandmother was busy. As each person was called up to the front of the room to receive his or her CPR card and EMT certificate, I was, yet again, called up last.
As I was about to be called, the door opened and in walked my Grandparents. I was thrilled. Since I had not told anyone what I was doing, and had asked Dave, on day one, not to tell anyone in Fire or PD, I was totally surprised when in came the Fire Chief, some of my favorite Captains, the Chief of Police, the Mayor of Pasadena, and a few other V.I.P.s to watch me graduate. At that moment, I officially became an EMT.”
As Jeanie’s EMT career continued, she was still volunteering to teach First Aid classes with the American Red Cross. Then she was asked to teach Disaster Services classes to volunteers since she had also continued to be a disaster response volunteer as well. Disaster response was broken down into various different functions. Jeanie’s main function was in Training, but Staffing was added to her responsibilities.
On the large national responses, this made sense since she knew what training was needed for each function and could then assign job duties to match the needs at the time. She also went out in the field with new and local volunteers to teach how Red Cross handle tasks such as Damage Assessment, Sheltering, Feeding, and Client Services among others. She was promoted up the ladder over time, ending up as a Training as well as Staffing Supervisor.
While Jeanie felt fulfilled in the life saving work she was doing, there was always a part of her that felt like she could be doing even more. While speaking with a Pastor friend who ran a Bible college, he was discussing how all of his students were gearing up to graduate and become ministers or missionaries to help in various parts of the world. Jeanie is a Christian but never really talks about her relationship with God or “religion”. She accepted Jesus as her Savior and Lord when she was 12 years old. She was a bit concerned she never felt as if she had a calling. The pastor chuckled, and asked, “What do you do?”
She thought, he knows what I do, but responded, “I teach people how to help save lives, and show them how to become disaster prepared.”. He thought it was funny that I had no understanding of where he was headed until he said, “You have a ministry that shows God’s love. You do not preach Jesus, you live Jesus by helping others.” It was at this moment that Jeanie realized she had been living her ministry, and doing so since childhood.
Over the next couple of years, as she was trying to figure out a way to reach more people to educate, the thought of a website came to mind, and kept getting stronger. Being “technologically challenged,” she had no idea where or how to start. After doing some research into the procedure, her disaster website was born.
In 2010, The American Red Cross changed the operating structure to operate under a more corporate model. This included phasing out all volunteers who taught First Aid classes, and then hiring and training instructors. In early 2012, the idea came to her to start her own business teaching First Aid classes. Again, she had no idea how to start a business, but she forged ahead, and THE CPR GALS was born in December 2012.
Around this time, she also became an American Heart Association (AHA) instructor as well as an American Safety and Health Institute (ASHI) instructor, a few years later giving up her American Red Cross health and safety instructor certification.
THE CPR GALS site lists all the classes she teaches which include disaster preparedness presentations. The Disaster site is all information which covers so much! THE CPR GALS site also includes a lot of information that is now not taught in classes since the 3 big agencies (AHA, ARC, ASHI, and others) cut the length of a CPR, First Aid, and AED class went from 8 hours down to 4-ish hours.
Jeanie says, “What they cut out of classes is all very important information that you will need to use in all situations. But the focus had become choking, CPR, and AED use. Most people will never use CPR, but they will use information of like how to know what is an emergency, how to get permission to give care, the Good Samaritan Laws, and much more. So I put all that on the website.”
Both of her sister websites work together and are very informative.
“The question is not IF something is going to happen, rather WHEN is something going to happen – and What. Will You Be Prepared?”
One of her others is a quote from Benjamin Franklin which states, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” She says, “Everyone needs to get prepared for any medical emergency or disaster before something happens, because once something happens it is too late to get ready.”
Jeanie’s experience in the field of disaster relief is a list almost too long to comprehend. She was a volunteer with the American Red Cross from 1968 to 2022, a Health and Safety Instructor and a Disaster Instructor, as well as a local and national Disaster Responder Volunteer. She was an EMT for 20 plus years, worked with LA County Sheriff’s Department as Disaster Communications, was a member of the El Monte Police Department Mounted Unit Volunteers and a LA Co. C.E.R.T. Volunteer from 2014 to 2020, and that is the short version of all she has done.
Individuals like Jeanie do not wait for disaster to strike to get educated, they create idealized versions of relief that will help the most amount of people in the quickest time possible. Her confidence in her ability is infectious and has helped save a multitude of lives; either directly or indirectly through her in person classes as well as through her websites.
She says, “With THE CPR GALS and Disaster Services and Supplies, the goal is to educate others in one form or another. I have done countless community classes and presentations on what it looks like to be truly prepared for a medical emergency or disaster and the baseline of knowledge one should have that could be the difference between life and death.
With the disaster preparedness presentations, I loved being able to teach people directly, but always wanted to reach a larger audience, and provide the information one needs that can be of benefit in times of certain disaster.”
Through this desire, the websites were born, and Jeanie was able to create a home-base of knowledge and resources for all to educate themselves on how to prepare for a multitude of health emergencies and disaster situations.
The websites are an encyclopedia of knowledge, and while there are many types of disasters and preparedness procedures listed throughout both, Jeanie has organized them in a way that makes it easy for anyone to navigate, and find the specific information for which they are looking.
THE CPR GALS specifically has made it easy for everybody to not only learn about CPR, but also offers non-certified classes on Zoom so you can get trained no matter where you live. The site has grown to include presentations, resources, and information involving life saving techniques and procedures. She continues to certify CPR classes in person locally (because to be certified, the skills must be done in person), but she also offers Zoom classes such as Pet First Aid, Water Safety, Infant Presentations for new or about to be new parents (and other family and friends who will be around the little one), and so many others.
Disaster Services and Supplies is a website from which every single person can benefit and learn. “We all have busy lives. We are rushing to work, trying to get the kids to school on time, getting the errands done, and getting home to take care of the chores. Take a few minutes today to Start a Plan! Grab a piece of paper and start writing.
“What do we do if … The house catches on fire in the middle of the night? What do we do if … We have to evacuate our home? What do we do if … There is a natural disaster? What do we do if … Someone has a medical emergency? By being prepared, and having your Plan and Disaster Supplies and Emergency Kits, you can minimize the effect a medical emergency or disaster can have on you and your family.”
The website has information, preparedness techniques, and resources to help anyone prepare for earthquakes, fires, medical emergencies, tornadoes, winter storms, terrorism, floods, heatwaves, volcanos, tsunami’s, and so much more.
In 2019, for business owners, Jeanie started a new project, Disaster Preparedness Solutions. How Small and Medium Sized Business Owners – who are not prepared for potential disasters – can save thousands of dollars and reduce the possibility of losing their life savings as well as their business … in as little as 90 days.
The program starts with a free 45 minute class online, then offers a free 45 minute consultation with her over the phone about the three biggest problems a business owner is having. After that, there is a possibility you will be able to join her 8 week program which is absolutely chalk full of information business owners must have!
But … then the lockdowns happened, and so many of Jeanie’s business clients went out of business. Now, in 2023, she is getting back on track with this venture.
Being at home versus being in the workplace in times of disaster can drastically alter how you react and respond to your given situation. Workplaces need to have some sort of procedure in place in order to mitigate unnecessary repercussions from occurring when emergencies happen. For employers, it is important to educate this life saving information to their employees.
In times of natural or man made disasters, utilizing our technology to help can be a hit or miss experience depending on if you have power or cell phone service (because cell towers can go down) so utilizing your brain is the only option you have. By giving knowledge of procedure to your company and your employees, you could help save your life, the lives of your employees, customers, family, and community.
Jeanie’s entire life has been full of education, and utilizing her knowledge to help save lives and help families and communities learn how to prevent and recover in times of medical emergencies and disasters.
She has now compiled her infinite amount of preparedness techniques and procedures into her websites to give everyone the opportunity to learn, and equip themselves to be ready when disaster strikes.
We would all be lucky to have the infinite wealth of information that Jeanie does when it comes to preparedness, but with the help of her websites and programs, we can all become one step closer to knowing how to react when disaster strikes next.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.