West Virginia middle school and high school students will be required to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation under new state legislation expected to be signed into law.

Starting in the fall semester of 2015, students in grades six through 12 will practice giving chest compressions every year in health class. Previously, the West Virginia Department of Education required instruction in CPR and first aid without the hands-on, psychomotor practice.

“One of the most important aspects of the treatment of cardiac arrest is response time,” said Robert Pepper, board president of the American Heart Association’s Charleston Metro Board. “Survival rates are impacted dramatically based on the time lapse between onset of arrest and initial treatment. Mandatory CPR in schools provides a significant opportunity to put life-saving techniques in the hands of millions more people, thus increasing the likelihood of immediate treatment, which will result in the saving of lives.”

Less than half of the roughly 326,000 Americans who have a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year get CPR from a bystander, and only about 10 percent survive.

Bystander CPR can double or triple survival rates from cardiac arrest. However, many people do not get help from bystanders who could provide CPR if they knew how.

With CPR training in schools, there is a certainty that people will be trained each year. In West Virginia, more than 17,000 students graduating high school every year will get that training.

Rural West Virginia — where ambulances can take up to 30 minutes to arrive – will especially benefit from the training, said Christine Compton, AHA government relations director for West Virginia.

The legislation outlines that no-cost CPR training can be given by emergency medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, licensed nurses and volunteers from the AHA and American Red Cross.

West Virginia joins 20 other states that have passed school CPR requirements, including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.