Coon Rapids celebrates heart safe city award

A heart safe celebration took place in a packed Coon Rapids City Council chambers Nov. 6.

Not only did the city receive an award for becoming a heart safe community – the 23rd in the state and the first in Anoka County – but the heroic actions of a McCarthy Auto World worker in helping save the life of a fellow employee was recognized.

Josh Gagner (left) and Tim Hoffman (right). Gagner performed CPR on Hoffman when he went into sudden cardiac arrest Oct. 3 while at work at McCarthy Auto World, Coon Rapids.
Josh Gagner (left) and Tim Hoffman (right). Gagner performed CPR on Hoffman when he went into sudden cardiac arrest Oct. 3 while at work at McCarthy Auto World, Coon Rapids.

“This is a tremendous day for the community,” said Mayor Tim Howe.

Coon Rapids’ designation as a heart safe community was approved Oct. 8 by a board set up by the Minnesota Department of Health and the American Heart Association.

Coon Rapids Police Office Bryan Platz led a team that spearheaded the heart safe community initiative that included Nick House, Coon Rapids Fire Department inspector; Deb McPeck, Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 teacher; Jearmy Browning, U.S. Air Force captain; and Paul Mendoza, North Memorial Medical Center paramedic and Coon Rapids business owner.

“Lots of people have done a lot of hard work to make this possible,” Platz said.

The heart safe program has two goals – to ensure that automated external defibrillators are more readily available in the community in places such as schools, workplaces, businesses and athletic facilities and to make sure the public is educated and trained to not only recognize sudden cardiac arrest, but also in the use of an AED and CPR, according to Platz.

The Coon Rapids heart safe program has trained over 1,300 people in the community, identified 106 AEDs in the city including 71 in local businesses, schools and churches and has trained employees from 40 individual businesses in CPR and AED use, Platz said.

All Coon Rapids police squad cars and fire trucks/engines are equipped with AEDs.

The goal is to train half the city’s population (30,000) and get 50 percent of the city’s businesses (300) to provide public access AEDs, he said.

In witnessed cardiac arrests, 85 percent of victims survive when immediate CPR is started and an AED is used within the first two minutes, Platz said.

That was the case at McCarthy Auto World, Coon Rapids, Oct. 3 when employee Tim Hoffman’s heart stopped beating.

While 911 was called, fellow worker Josh Gagner recognized the life and death situation and immediately began CPR on Hoffman which he continued until Platz and fellow Coon Rapids Police Officer Bob Trusler arrived with their squad car’s AEDs.

“Josh continued CPR while the officer set up the AED,” Platz said.

“Within seconds of the AED being placed on Tim, it delivered one shock.”

Then the other officer arrived at the scene and relieved Gagner of his CPR duties, Platz said.

“One minute and 52 seconds after the first shock, Tim’s pulse was restored and he started breathing on his own,” he said.

Hoffman’s heart stopped beating for over seven minutes and for five of those minutes Gagner “literally held Tim’s life in the balance,” according to Platz.

“As a direct result of Josh’s actions, Tim Hoffman never went without the precious oxygen he needed to survive,” Platz said.

“Simply by performing CPR, Josh pushed Tim’s oxygen-rich blood through his body and bought Tim five more minutes of life. Rather that wait for help, Josh became the help.”

Both Hoffman and Gagner were in the council chambers for the heart safe celebration and Gagner received a life saver award to a standing ovation from the audience, many of whom were Hoffman’s family and friends.

Indeed, Hoffman, 45, plans to return to work at the McCarthy auto dealership before the end of this month.

The sudden cardiac arrest that he suffered was just that – sudden.

According to Hoffman, he had no history of heart trouble and in August he had a physical in which he had been given a clean bill of health.

The only sign that anything might be wrong came immediately before he went into sudden cardiac arrest when he remembered telling a co-worker that he had a bit of chest pain, but he thought he had hurt his ribs, Hoffman said.

Hoffman, who has worked at McCarthy for 12 years, had been mentoring Gagner, he said.

“Now we have a special bond,” Hoffman said. “Josh saved my life.”

Hoffman and his wife, Heidi, live in Ramsey and have two children, Jared, 15, and Lindsy, 19.

Gagner, 23, learned CPR when he was 12 years old and in the Boy Scouts, he said.

But while he had practiced CPR often enough, this was the first time he had to use in a real situation, Gagner said.

“I was shocked when Tim went into sudden cardiac arrest, but I knew he needed help,” he said.

When he started CPR on Hoffman, it came easily to him, Gagner said.

“I am so happy and proud to have helped to save Tim’s life,” he said.

He has worked at McCarthy’s for 2 1/2 years and lives in Rogers.

Hoffman now wears a pacemaker, but has made a full recovery with no neurological deficit, according to Platz.

“This is a true example of a bystander getting involved and saving a life,” Platz said.

If CPR is started immediately while waiting for emergency services, it improves a patient’s odds of survival by almost 50 percent, he said.

In August, a letter was sent to all businesses in the city urging them to become part of the program.

Three ways in which businesses can be involved were listed in the letter.

• Participate in Heart Safe Coon Rapids’ free bystander CPR and AED training.

• Allow the public to use an AED at a place of business if needed in the case of a sudden cardiac arrest emergency.

• Purchase an AED if the business does not have one already.

The Heart Safe Coon Rapids project has secured discounted AED pricing through three distributors for businesses who wish to purchase an AED.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health website, the heart safe designation recognizes a community’s efforts to prepare its staff and citizens to recognize when someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest and how to respond.

For more information on the Coon Rapids Heart Safe project, email [email protected]. More information about the program can also be found at

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]