The Difference Between Life and Death. San Francisco Office Workers Learn Lifesaving Red Cross Skills 

Jen Bottalico, Manager at Alex. Brown San Francisco, practices chest compressions.
Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

One recent afternoon high up inside a San Francisco skyscraper, the sounds of “Are you alright?” and “Clear!” rang out.  Red Cross CPR manikins lay between the office desks, with a dozen office workers kneeling beside them practicing chest compressions. These employees of Alex.Brown, a division of Raymond James*, were learning the basics of lifesaving first aid measures. 

Officer Manager Jennifer Bottalico and Branch Administrative Manager Cheryl Fox arranged the training through the local Red Cross office. “We decided we wanted to try to do everything we could to kind of protect our employees because we view them as family.  So, for us, it’s just that we wanted to be able to go back to them and say if we ever had an incident that we did everything that we absolutely could,” they said. 

Cheryl Fox said she and Bottalico were inspired to take steps after a colleague in another office suffered a medical emergency.  The frightening on-field cardiac arrest of Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin also drove home the need to be prepared. 

“It was scary, because I don’t think you ever think somebody of his age, that that’s going to happen to somebody that’s 20-something years old. Very scary,” she said.  

Instructor Thom Volz of VCT services, a strategic partner with the Red Cross, started the class with a pep talk.  

“Know where the first aid kits are in the places we travel to regularly, so we can get this response going, know where the AED kits are,” he said. Volz also told the class it can typically take ten minutes for first responders to arrive, so it’s important to be prepared with the equipment and skills needed to save a life. 

Volz divided the class into teams of three people, who practiced CPR on the manikins. 
“We’re trying to build habits right now,” Volz told the class, “So arms locked out, lean over the person to give compressions; one cycle of CPR for adults.” 

The team of Alex.Brown in San Francisco practicing CPR and AED use. Photo by Marcia Antipa / American Red Cross

Then the teams learned to use an AED, or automated external defibrillator, a device that analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm, and, if needed, delivers a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. 

Office Manager Bottalico says after she took a Red Cross training class, she received approval from their head office to buy an AED for the San Francisco branch. 

“If somebody’s not breathing it’s a matter of seconds, so I think the investment into an AED for the office – hopefully we never have to use it – the investment is worth it. We worked with our counterparts at Raymond James …and they didn’t hesitate.” 

The teams also learned how to save the life of a person who is choking.  Office members Renee Sessa and Samantha Hsu teamed up to practice chest thrusts. For Sessa, a frightening incident that almost took a friend’s life convinced her to take this class. 

“He was 60 and he went into cardiac arrest and luckily there was somebody that was trained and was able to immediately administer CPR to him and saved his life.” 

Renee says she wants to be able to do the same for a family member or co-worker. “I hope to be able to…save someone’s life or help save someone’s life in the event of an emergency.” 

Office Manager Bottalico says the class was a success. “We can always tell by the level of questions that are asked by the team how much they are paying attention,” she says, laughing. “They all were engaged today so I think everyone realizes the value of it. People realize that sometimes it’s going to be up to them.” 

If you would like to learn lifesaving skills, or to arrange a class for your office or organization, visit   


*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 
*Raymond James & Associates, Inc., is not affiliated with any of the above outside organizations.