For all the Eagle Scouts who earned their first-aid merit badge years ago, consider this: There's more to life-saving than learning.

It takes practice.

"We think we can just read about it and do it, and that's a fatal mistake," said Maxine Margaritis, CEO of the Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Performing first aid and CPR in a real-life situation presents many variables. Practice can alleviate some of the challenges people face, such as panic or lack of confidence.

"A lot of time people know what to do, but they don't feel they're competent enough to perform the skill," said Mary Matthiessen, director of health and safety at the Salt Lake chapter.

According to the American Red Cross Advisory Council, "CPR skill retention begins to decline as early as two weeks after a participant is trained, and progressively decreases for about a year."

That's why the organization stresses the importance of "refresher courses" and requires recertification after one year.

Of course, becoming certified requires time and effort. While Margaritis acknowledges that the classroom hours have been reduced significantly, courses currently offered by the Red Cross still range between four and six hours.

That's why Margaritis urges people to consider the importance of "general preparedness."

"It's so little time when you think about it," she said. "I just think it's a very healthy investment for our families."

According to the Red Cross, most incidents that require first aid or CPR occur close to home. Matthiessen said that 90 percent of the time, life-saving skills are applied to family and friends.

"You never know when you're going to be asked to help someone," Matthiessen said.

Beginning in May, the Red Cross will implement a "Blended Learning" program that combines online educational courses with classroom practice opportunities. The purpose, according to Margaritis, is to make the training as convenient as possible.

The Red Cross also offers a free online training course called "Be Red Cross Ready" that can be accessed through the Web site www.utahredcross.org. The Web site also features a list of training classes offered by the organization and information on emergency preparedness.

"The idea is you have to be forward thinking," Margaritis said. "We just have to recognize that this needs to be a part of our ongoing lives."