Everyone should learn life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation - CPR - which includes first-aid procedures for a choking victim, an American Red Cross official advises.

"You'll never know when you will need to use the procedures, and often they will need to be performed on a person you know, or a relative. That makes the knowledge even more vital," says Correy Tanner, director of health and safety for the Red Cross Salt Lake Area chapter."The quicker you are able to act, the greater the chance of being successful in resuscitating the individual and avoiding further injury - or even death," he said.

According to Tanner, several thousand people die in the United States each year from choking. Most of these deaths could be prevented if a bystander knew what to do.

"The importance of training is that in an emergency situation the training takes over and replaces confusion and panic," Tanner said. "Without proper training, it is possible to make the situation worse."

Choking generally occurs when food or another object blocks the windpipe. Typically, a choking victim cannot breathe, much less speak. Within a short time the victim's skin turns blue and he collapses.

If the object isn't removed in four to six minutes, the victim could die.

The Heimlich maneuver, the specialist said, is an effective way to remove an object blocking the windpipe. It's a common procedure, and easy to learn.

"But don't just think you know it," Tanner urged. "Take training so you are sure you know it. A person trying the procedure must recognize the problem and then know what to do."

Tanner stressed that it's important that people performing the procedure have the knowledge and practice to do it correctly.

That training is available through the American Red Cross.

The Salt Lake chapter offers both first-aid courses and CPR courses on a regular basis in the evenings and on Saturdays. Each course lasts eight hours, and includes technical information and practice opportunities.

Special procedures to be used on infants and children are taught in both programs.

Instructors use film demonstrations and emergency scenarios to help participants learn the life-saving techniques. Cost of each course is $15 per person for books and materials.

According to Tanner, it's worth every penny.

"Several people have taken the courses because they were at an accident and were helpless. They felt that life slipped away because they didn't know what to do," he said.

"Having the knowledge and training is probably the greatest satisfaction a person can have when called upon to help in saving a life."

To those people who find themselves in an emergency situation, the Red Cross official has another piece of advice:

"The important thing to remember in all of this is to continue with the procedures you have been correctly taught, because the initial procedures may not be effective.

"But as you continue performing the Heimlich maneuver, you will eventually become successful as the victim's muscles relax," he explained. "The key is to never give up."