Black Balloon Day – March 6

March 6 is International Black Balloon Day. Take a few minutes this week to educate yourself about the toxic drug crisis and learn how you can support loved ones who may be struggling with substance use issues.

The event brings awareness to the worldwide toxic drug crisis and highlights deaths from drug overdose and substance-related harm. On this day, people pay tribute to family and friends who have died from drug poisoning and overdose. The event also aims to deflate the stigma of addiction, which is the reason many don’t seek help. Addiction is a brain disease — not a moral failure. People need reassurance that addiction is not their fault.

Black Balloon Day began with one family’s tragic loss. On March 6, 2015, Greg Tremblay, a father of four aged 38, died of an overdose. His mother-in-law, Diane and sister-in-law, Lauren Hurley, initiated the event to remember Greg. It has since become an international event. Learn more.

Man in a turquoise t-shirt clutches his chest in pain

What to Do if Alone and Having a Heart Attack

Have you ever wondered what you’d do if you were alone at home and suspected you were having a heart attack?

Deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) jumped globally from 12.1 million in 1990 to 20.5 million in 2021, according to a May 2023 report from the World Heart Federation. In 2021, CVD was the leading cause of death worldwide.

What To Do When a Heart Attack Occurs

When a heart attack occurs, it’s essential to act fast and get medical attention—every minute counts. You may not have time to wait for an ambulance to arrive before you start feeling the effects of the attack. Can you survive a heart attack alone? Yes, but it depends on your actions immediately following the onset of symptoms. Your chances of surviving are pretty dismal without immediate medical help.

Following the tips in this one-minute article will improve your survival odds significantly.

Heart Attack When Alone: 5 Smart Things Experts Advise You Do Immediately for the Best Chance of Survival

#heartattack  #firstaid

Register for a Red Cross first aid & CPR class and learn to save a life.


Two young boys lying on the floor colouring

Home Alone Online Training for Children

Safe + Sound First Aid Training offers Home Alone online training for children aged 10+. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from parents and caregivers about children being home alone.

Q: How can I tell if my child is ready to stay home alone?

Signs Your Child May Be Ready To Stay Home Alone:

While every child matures differently,  some signs indicate your child may be ready to stay home without adult supervision for short periods of time. These signs will help parents, guardians, and caregivers gauge their child’s readiness.

Your child —

  • is at least 10 years of age.
  • follows family rules and instructions.
  • knows his/her full name, address, major intersections and phone number.
  • understands when and how to contact 911.
  • is not afraid to stay home alone.
  • knows what to do when the unexpected arises.
  • has basic first aid skills, knows where the first aid kit is and how to use its contents.
  • knows how to lock the door routinely and safeguard the key
  • knows how to contact a trusted adult if needed.

Q: What are the benefits of online, self-directed Home Alone classes for children aged 9-13?

There are several benefits to online, self-directed classes on the subject of home alone, safety, and first aid for children aged 10+:

Self-sufficiency: These classes can teach children how to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves if they are home alone.

Safety skills: Children can learn essential safety skills, such as handling emergencies and what to do in the event of an injury.

Independence: These classes can help children develop a sense of independence and responsibility.

Confidence: Children can gain confidence in handling difficult situations by learning new skills.

Fun: These classes can be engaging and interactive, making them more enjoyable for children.

Convenience: Children can complete online, self-directed classes at a time that’s convenient for the child and their family.

Accessibility: Online classes can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, making them a convenient option for families who may not have access to in-person classes in their area.


Q: What is the minimum age for leaving children home alone?

Please check your community’s child protection services for local guidelines or laws regarding the recommended minimum age to leave a child home alone. This age varies from province to province and state to state.


Q: What other factors should I consider when deciding if my child is ready to stay home alone?

Parents should be mindful that not all children mature at the same age and that age is not the only factor to consider when deciding a child’s readiness. Temperament, maturity, access to Emergency Medical Services, and willingness are also factors to consider.

Parents should not force a child to stay home alone before they are ready. Taking the Home Alone course will help youths develop many essential safety skills, but it does not guarantee that a child will be prepared to stay on their own. This is a judgement call for parents, guardians and caregivers as they know the child’s abilities best.

The Home Alone Safety for Kids course will help your child prepare for independence. Practical and convenient, this self-guided and self-paced tutorial helps to build a child’s confidence through engaging games, rich digital media, videos and colourful graphics that equip youth with skills for a lifetime of safety. It provides valuable life skills for your child and peace of mind for parents and caregivers.


Q: How long is the online Home Alone course?

The Home Alone Safety for Kids online course takes approximately 90 minutes to complete.


Q: How old do children have to be to take the Home Alone online course?

The Home Alone Safety for Kids online course is designed for children aged 10+ years.


Q: What topics are included in the online Home Alone course?

  • Home Alone course topics include:
  • How to be street smart and stay alert
  • Routines and house rules
  • Safe snacking
  • Making smart choices online
  • Fire safety
  • Injury prevention
  • Basic first aid


Q: Can I watch a preview video of the Home Alone course?

Yes, click here to see a preview of the Home Alone Safety for kids course.


Q: What is the pass mark for the Home Alone course?

Participants must achieve a mark of 80% to receive a certificate of completion. They can repeat the course twice if they don’t get 80% or more on the first attempt.


Q: Will my child receive a certificate after completing the Home Alone course?

Yes. Your child will receive a digital participation certification after completing the Home Alone course.


Q: After taking the Home Alone online course, will my child be qualified to babysit?

After taking the Home Alone Safety for Kids course, your child will be safer and more confident to stay home alone. If they are planning to babysit, we recommend they also take a Red Cross Babysitting course. You can find more information about this course here: Canadian Red Cross Babysitting Program for 11-15 year-olds.


Q: How can I register my child for the Home Alone course?

Click here to register your child today for the Home Alone Safety for Kids course.


Q: Who can I contact if I have questions about the Home Alone course?

Please contact us here via this form. Thank you.


Home Alone Online Training for Children is an investment in your child’s safety.

An older woman wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, sits on a beige sofa drinking a glass of red wine and looking depressed.

Substance Use in Older Adults

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in older adults is not something most of us are comfortable talking about. But don’t assume your older workers or loved ones are immune. Broaching the subject and having these discussions can save lives. If you suspect someone is struggling with SUD, talk to them — before it’s too late.

The following article discusses the relationship between alcohol use, falls and hip fractures in older adults. It includes suggestions on how to broach the subject of substance use with family members and where to find helpful resources:

Is Alcohol or Old Age the Cause of Your Older Family Member’s Broken Hip?

This article outlines some practical ways you can help prevent people from dying from atoxic drug poisoning:

Opioid Overdose: Four Things We Can Do Today to Stop Senseless Deaths

You can find other articles on substance use, addiction and the toxic drug crisis here.

Openly discussing substance use in older adults with families, co-workers and doctors can save lives.

A map of the world created using coloured pills

People of the World — Wake Up to the Toxic Drug Crisis!

This poem is a call to action. Toxic drugs are killing our family and friends, and we can no longer look the other way. Where will this human disaster end if we fail to take action now? We must educate ourselves and start uncomfortable conversations with loved ones, friends, co-workers and employees. We need urgent solutions to prevent countless more deaths in our communities and worldwide.

Read the poem on

Other related blog posts include:

Benefits of Free Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioid Overdose: Four Things We Can Do Today to Stop Senseless Deaths


World First Aid Day

When Gill McCulloch’s son was five-years old, he nearly died while choking on a candy. “It was the most frightening moment of my life when he stopped breathing!”

That day, Gill was able to save her son’s life, thanks to her training with the Canadian Red Cross.

First aid can help someone in need and can save lives. Observed every year and led by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), World First Aid Day promotes awareness about the importance of first aid.

For more than 70 years, the Canadian Red Cross has empowered Canadians through First Aid education. This training is delivered both directly and through Training Partners. The Red Cross free First Aid app also places life-saving advice in the hands of every Canadian. In British Columbia, one such Training Partner is Safe + Sound First Aid Training, which consistently provides Red Cross certified first aid and CPR training.

More than two decades later, Gill McCulloch, the Owner/Director for Safe + Sound First Aid Training, continues to call this collaboration one of her best decisions to date.

From Student to Red Cross Training Partner
Growing up in a family with a history in medicine, Gill enjoyed being trained in basic first aid and CPR for her role as a fitness director in England. Later in Canada, during her first pregnancy, she wanted to learn CPR for babies. A decision that was cemented when the babies of three of her friends had choking incidents.

Soon afterwards, in 1999, a class with the Canadian Red Cross inspired her to become a certified First Aid Instructor. This led to the foundation of Safe + Sound First Aid Training, where she was later joined by her husband Warren.

“I was extremely nervous the first time I was called to teach CPR for babies to a group of new mums! But the applause at the end of the class gave me great confidence. The host was so sweet and thoughtful. She even made Red Cross themed cupcakes for us!”

From new mothers and young children, to corporations, her team has taught them all.

The Red Cross Connection: A Tale of Three Generations

A few years into her training work, Gill’s mother handed her a box with medals and other items. This revealed a family legacy.

In 1918, after being severely wounded and blinded in the trenches during World War I, her British grandfather recovered in a Red Cross hospital. During World War II, the Red Cross awarded her Dutch grandfather for his contributions to the Dutch resistance across occupied Holland.

“I was shocked! Our connection with the Red Cross, almost a century later, feels destined!”

This year, Gill’s daughter Chris has become a Red Cross Youth Leader and recently conducted her first Babysitting course. She beams with pride, “That’s three generations with the Red Cross now, carrying this legacy forward!”

Moving with the times
From offering free Babysitting training to refugees in Canada, to managing Red Cross training contracts with more than 30 organizations, Safe + Sound continues to serve the community.

When no in-person training was possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Cross supported Safe + Sound’s ability to provide Youth First Aid courses virtually and to offer some first aid & CPR courses in a blended format, combining online training with in-person delivery.

Gill believes every form of First Aid can be valuable for helping when needed, “the Red Cross Psychological First Aid course reduces stigma around coping with stress, loss and grief, while the Opioid Harm Reduction initiative is changing the conversation around opioid poisoning.”

“Through the ages, the impact of the Red Cross as an international, well-respected humanitarian organization continues to grow,” she remarks.

Worth It All

Over the years, her team has heard back from clients whose lives have changed – while some saved a life, others got a big boost in their self-confidence. In 2011, Safe + Sound became the first Red Cross agency to receive the ‘Partners in Humanity Award’. Since 1999, Safe + Sound First Aid Training has offered Red Cross training to more than 50,000 students of all ages and backgrounds.

“It’s an honour collaborating with the Red Cross. First aid education is a lifelong process, and can be learned at any age. At the end of the day, even one life saved is worth it. You never know whose life you might save. It could be a loved one or the life of a stranger you’re yet to meet!”

Are you inspired to learn First Aid and CPR? Visit to find training in your area.

Register for a virtual, 30-minute learning session on September 10.

  • Fall Prevention for Older Adults and their Caregivers provides learners with tips to help an individual reduce their risk of falls through the four pillars of fall prevention: vision, home safety, medication use and exercise.
  • First Aid Tips for Families is a fun, engaging session that will test participants’ first aid knowledge and provide helpful tips and safe practices to incorporate into daily life.

Click here to register for your preferred session time. Space is limited.

Related stories:
Working together to save a life: how a work team switched gears in a first aid emergency
Transit trio apply critical first aid skills to save a life

What to do when a child is choking

Annie Speaks: Top Tips on How To Get a First Aid Certificate

Student: Dear Annie, I’ve signed up for a first aid class, but I’m nervous. Can you give me some tips on how to pass my course?

Annie: You’ve already done the hard part by registering and paying for the class! Here are some tips to help you complete your training successfully.

Register for the right class

Ensure you’ve registered yourself for the correct class. If your school or employer requires you to get a first aid/CPR certificate, confirm the name of the course you are required to take. There are many different types of first aid and CPR courses and certifications. Schools and industries require different types of training.

To save money and time and prevent frustration, ask your school or employer which certificate you need before registering. If they tell you to “just get a basic first aid certificate,” ask them for the certification’s exact name. For example, Red Cross Standard First Aid & CPR/AED Level C or Red Cross Emergency Child Care First Aid & CPR/AED Level B. Preferably get this information in writing, so there are no misunderstandings.

Discuss any concerns before class

When you register for a first aid/CPR class, let the agency running the course know if you have any issues that would make it difficult for you to complete the training. For example, if English is not your first language, or if you have dyslexia or learning challenges, you may find it hard to understand the course material and do well on the multiple-choice test.

If you have joint problems or difficulties getting down onto the floor, you may find doing some of the required practical skills challenging. Your instructor may be able to make some accommodations for you to help you be more comfortable during class and complete the training successfully. However, if you keep these issues to yourself, the instructor may not be aware of them and will be unable to help you.

Check your course details

After registering and paying for your class, you should receive a registration confirmation with course details and a payment receipt. If you’re taking a Red Cross blended course, you’ll also receive a link to your online training component.

If you don’t receive this information soon after registration, contact the company with whom you registered. If their office is closed, they won’t be able to help you, so don’t leave it until the night before the class.

Prepare for your class and complete prerequisites

Ensure you do what is required to prepare for your class. If you registered for a blended course that includes an online theory component and in-person session, you might need to complete the online training before attending your classroom session.

If you leave this until the last minute and for some reason (e.g. a power outage) can’t complete the training before your in-person class, you may not be eligible to attend the session.

Set your alarm clock!

The day before your class, check if you’ve completed any course requirements and know the course location and start time. Remember to set your alarm clock.

Dress comfortably

During a first aid class, you will spend some seated, listening to lectures, and perhaps watching videos or PowerPoint presentations. The instructor will also have you practice some skills on the floor. You may work with a partner or small group.

Wear comfortable, layered clothing and avoid short skirts, high heels, and tight jeans. Also, avoid heavy scents as some people are highly allergic to fragrances. The room may be air-conditioned so bring an extra layer for comfort.

Show up at the right place and time

On the day, show up at the right place and arrive 10 minutes before the course starts. The instructor may need to check your ID or ask you to fill in a form before the class begins.

Late arrivals disrupt the class and annoy instructors and other students. If you’re late, the instructor may turn you away as you may have missed too much material to catch up. In this case, it’s unlikely the company will offer a refund for your missed class. Agencies have different rules about attendance. Canadian Red Cross requires 100% participation for certification.

Participate fully

First aid training can be physically demanding. During class, participate as fully as you can. If you have any medical concerns or are worried about whether it’s safe to take a first aid class, chat with the first aid agency and your doctor.

Don’t take phone calls in class unless it’s an emergency. If you have to take a call, leave the room immediately and take it in the hallway. Return to class as soon as possible to avoid missing too much. Checking social media/texting in class is very distracting to others. Save this for your breaks.

If you don’t understand — ask questions

If you don’t understand something the instructor says, ask them to repeat it or explain it. If you don’t ask the question, you won’t know the answer, and there may be a test question on this topic. Remember, if you have a question, chances are someone else in the class has the same question. The only silly question is the one you don’t ask.

Understand how the test process works

When it’s time for the test, ensure you fully understand how it will be conducted and what you are required to do. You may be unfamiliar with multiple-choice tests. Your instructor should give clear instructions, but if you are confused, ask questions.

If you don’t understand a question, go to the instructor and ask them to explain. They can’t tell you the answer, but they can help you understand the question.

Check your answers

Mark your answer sheet clearly. If you miss a question and mess up your answer sheet, ask for another one. When you’ve completed the test, check your answers. If you’re happy with your responses, hand in your exam and answer sheet to the instructor. They will mark your paper and let you know if you have achieved a passing grade.

The instructor will explain the next steps if you have not reached the required pass mark. They may ask you to contact the office in the morning to discuss your situation. Most people complete their training successfully.

So there you have it — Annie’s top tips for completing a first aid/CPR course and getting a Red Cross certificate! Many people are anxious about taking first aid and CPR training. Over the last 23 years as a Red Cross first aid agency owner, I’ve spoken with thousands of students and listened to their concerns. I hope these top tips from Annie will give people the information and confidence they need to take a first aid class and learn how to save a life.


If you have any questions, please contact Safe + Sound First Aid Training, and we’ll be happy to help.

Gill McCulloch, Director, Safe + Sound First Aid Training Ltd.

© Gill McCulloch, July 2022

New SIDS Study Suggests Reason Infants Die In Sleep

The new SIDS study leaves experts hopeful, but they advise caution when interpreting results

“I found my little grandson lying dead in his crib.”

I’ve listened to many sad and shocking stories over my 23 years running a Red Cross first aid training agency. Emotional accounts of an infant lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are the most heartbreaking. Finding a beloved baby lying dead in their crib is a parent or grandparent’s worst nightmare.

A person’s feelings of grief and guilt when an infant dies on their watch are extreme. They wrack their brains to figure out what they could have done or not done to prevent the baby’s death. Attending a first aid course is often on their long list of self-imposed safety precautions to help avoid future tragedy. This is how I come to hear their stories.

According to a UNICEF report, globally, an estimated 2.5 million newborns die each year in the first month of life — approximately 7,000 babies every day. SIDS remains the leading cause of infant mortality in Western countries.

Thanks to new research and a world-first breakthrough at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW), Australia, there is hope that SIDS may soon be a thing of the past.

What is SIDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also known as cot death or crib death. It is the sudden unexplained death of a child under 12 months of age. For a diagnosis of SIDS to be given, the death must remain unexplained even after a thorough autopsy and detailed death scene investigation.

SIDS most often occurs during sleep, and typically, death occurs between midnight and 9:00 a.m. Usually, there is no noise or evidence of a struggle.

Public health campaigns such as the Back to Sleep program have significantly reduced deaths from SIDS. However, it is still responsible for half of all post-neonatal deaths.

Background to the research study

For years, medical experts have suspected that a defect in the part of the brain that controls arousal from sleeping and breathing is what causes SIDS. They theorized that if an infant stopped breathing while asleep, the defect would keep the child from waking up. Until recently, the arousal mechanism remained a mystery.

Researchers have now identified Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) in the blood of newborns. BChE is the first biochemical marker that could help detect babies more at risk of SIDS while they are alive.

What is BChE?

BChE plays a significant role in the brain’s arousal pathway. Researchers believe a BChE deficiency likely indicates an arousal deficit, which reduces an infant’s ability to wake or respond to the external environment, making them more vulnerable to SIDS.

BChE and smoking

Smoking during pregnancy is one of the risk factors for SIDS, along with family history, premature birth, room temperature, a baby’s sleeping position and other factors. The researchers noted that animal studies have shown a tie between secondhand smoke and lower BChE. However, many other changes in the first six months of life are also likely to affect these enzymes and the nervous system in general.

About the new SIDS study

The study was published on May 6, 2022, in the Lancet’s journal eBioMedicine. Doctor Carmel Harrington, study lead, Honorary Research Fellow at CHW, dedicated her career to researching Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) after her son Damien died from the condition in 1991.

“Twenty-eight years ago, I was a lawyer, who used to be a research biochemist and a mother of 3 gorgeous children, when one night my beautiful healthy baby son, Damien, died suddenly and without warning. I was told it was tragic and I was told to go home and enjoy my living babies and have more. I tried.”

You can read more of Dr. Harrington’s story here.

Study methods

The researchers measured levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) and total protein in blood samples taken at birth from 67 babies aged 1–104 weeks. These babies died of SIDS and other unknown causes between 2016 and 2020. Technicians measured BChE in both SIDS babies and infants dying from other causes and compared them to ten surviving infants with the same date of birth and gender.

Findings and conclusion

Researchers found that the children who died of SIDS had significantly lower BChE levels than living children or those who died of other causes. They concluded that abnormal BChE, present at birth in SIDS babies, represents a measurable, specific explanation for SIDS death. In babies with a “Non-SIDS death,” there was no association between BChE and death.

Study limitations

The study size was relatively small. Other limitations include that the blood samples were more than two years old, so the findings don’t reflect BChE activity in fresh blood. The researchers also used coroners’ diagnoses rather than autopsy findings. They included data on children between one and two years old, where SIDS is usually defined as involving a child under a year old.

Hope for the future with a spoonful of caution

The new information offers hope to grieving parents, but more research is needed. Though this study has identified a potential biomarker for SIDS, a test for it is a long way off. Experts say it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

First Candle, a national organization focused on eliminating sleep-related infant deaths and supporting families, welcomed the research but also urged caution.

“This is progress, and for that, we should be optimistic, but it’s not the entire answer,” CEO Alison Jacobson said in a statement. “Our concern with the development of a test for the vulnerability to SIDS is with parents having a false sense of security and adopting unsafe sleep practices.”

Final thoughts

Individual scientific studies rarely offer clear-cut answers, especially to complex problems like SIDS. Research builds on itself over time. Research on the more fundamental, biological reasons for devastating issues like SIDS is essential to remove the stigma from grieving parents and help offer potential solutions. New and promising findings are helpful.

There’s still a long way to go before a screening test for SIDS might be available. However, this latest research is a promising step forward in understanding a devastating condition. BChE is a potential biomarker that might be used in the future to design a test (perhaps at newborn screening) to identify babies that might be vulnerable. The results from this study will likely lead to a reduction in heartbreaking deaths from SIDS, and that is something to celebrate.

Whenever new research uncovers a possible cure or unveils the answer to a long pondered question, we need to pause and look past sensational headlines blinking their attractive messages. We need to dig deeper into study methods, question the results and consider the consequences of hastily drawn conclusions.

Having a little patience, doing additional research and duplicating studies on a larger scale is wise. However, it doesn’t mean being so cautious we can’t celebrate legitimate advances in a particular field. It’s important to applaud the toil of dedicated researchers, acknowledge the pain of those for whom the study results mean the world, and hope for a better future.

In the case of the latest SIDS news, we need to keep an open mind, encourage and support research and hope for an end to SIDS in the very near future.

Register for Emergency Child Care First Aid & CPR Level B training