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Northwest BLS provides instruction with life-saving classes

by SUMMER ZALESKY Daily Inter Lake
| May 5, 2024 12:00 AM

As a former firefighter and search and rescue volunteer, Don Weakly has spent nearly his entire life providing lifesaving support. But he was just 9 years old when he first learned CPR as a Cub Scout.  

Inspired by the sacrifice of the many men and women in the 9/11 tragedy, Weakly decided to become a firefighter. Then, 17 years ago Weakly started Northwest BLS (Basic Life Support) as a way to provide others with the same opportunities to save lives. 

“I heard the call to respond to being a volunteer for the fire department after 9/11 and what the country went through and I ended up becoming an EMT with West Valley Fire and Rescue,” said Weakly.

Northwest BLS is an authorized provider of American Heart Association and teaches CPR, First Aid, AED Instruction, Emergency Care and Safety Institute Wilderness First Aid Instruction. The majority of Weakly’s students are employees of larger local organizations such as Weyerheuser, PROOF Research, and Nomad GCS, but he travels across the state in order to provide his services.

“They're trying to get all their staff to be trained in order to save a life if the situation arises and there is safety in numbers,” said Weakly. “Last year, I taught 433 students.”

While many of his students are employees of corporate organizations, Weakly said that 75% to 80% of cardiac events happen in the home so it is important for everyone to be trained in CPR and First Aid. 

Because Weakly teaches his classes with no more than 12 people at a time, he is able to provide individualized attention to each student ensuring that each concept is fully grasped. Weakly also teaches classes for children or one on one classes.

“I tell people if we get out an hour early, great. If we go two hours over, that’s fine too. I'm here for you for the day and when I think you can save me, you’ll pass,” said Weakly. “It's fun to teach a skill set and it's great to work with the general public.”

Over the years, Weakly has saved a number of individuals, but there are a few situations that stand out clearly in his mind.

“We used to have a raceway in North Kalispell, and when I was with West Valley, we would help with cars that crashed. One typical Saturday night, the cars were testing their hot lapping and all of a sudden people were yelling at us to come down to the pit. We were looking for smoke, because we figured there was a gas fire, but we didn’t see any. Turns out, a racer had collapsed in his trailer and we started doing CPR for about 20 minutes and I shocked him maybe three times until the ambulance arrived.”

Luckily the racer turned out OK, said Weakly, and the event marked one of the first of many times that he was able to assist with CPR. 

While safety and understanding is essential to the foundation of teaching his classes, Weakly said he also prioritizes having fun and making class engaging. 

“I try to provide a fun and educational class and make sure that everybody wants to learn. I really enjoy the smiles and talking to people. People remember things better when they’re having an enjoyable learning experience,” he said.

The American Heart Association updates its methods every five years in order to keep the approach to CPR as simple and effective as possible, said Weakly. 

“My class is forever evolving, changing, and growing and I have so many stories of people I've trained that were able to make a difference,” said Weakly.

Weakly said that he will continue in his role as a CPR instructor until his own last breaths and hopes the legacy will live on as his oldest daughter also works as an EMT and CPR instructor. 

“I'll be teaching this until the day I pass on,” he said. “It's fun, I get to make people laugh, and I get to teach people important life skills that they should have.”

To find out more about Northwest BLS, visit northwestbls.net, call 406-885-7446 or email montanacprguy@gmail.com.