SAN PABLO -- San Pablo Lytton Casino, arguably the only workplace in Contra Costa County that still allows indoor smoking, was decorated by county health officials Wednesday for a stellar record of saving lives.

Employees resuscitated five of six people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest at the casino over the past four years, according to the Contra Costa Health Services Department. That is five times the overall survival rate of cardiac arrest countywide, said Pam Dodson, who coordinates public outreach for the county's Emergency Medical Services.

Dodson touted the placement of five automated external defibrillators throughout the casino and in the cart that patrols the parking lot, an idea Director of Security James Grant credited to the casino's owners, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. Just as important, Dodson said, is the fact that employees know how to use the devices.

When someone collapses and is not responsive, the devices, known as AEDs in emergency medical parlance, administer an electric shock to stop the heart momentarily to allow it to beat rhythmically again.

At a holiday luncheon for casino employees, Dr. Joseph Barger, the county's emergency medical services director, presented certificates of heroism to Christopher Mavroudis, Felipe Guzman, Rodney Demillion, Ramon Miranda, Alexander Lanier, Armando Modales, Richard Board and Malvin Lee "for responding to a cardiac emergency and helping save a life."

Grant received an award on behalf of his department, which got the rescue program started. Mavroudis, the Human Resources manager, oversees the program and also is a CPR instructor, Dodson said.

The casino's nonsecurity personnel also receive training to recognize and react to heart emergencies by summoning security, county officials said, thus doing their part in the "Chain of Survival" -- "Early Access, Early CPR, Early Defibrillation, Early Advanced Life Support."

"Five people survived because of the program you have in place here," Dodson said.

Barger added, "We'd like to see other corporate entities emulate this kind of program."

Leaders of UniteHere Local 2850, which represents nonsecurity employees and has waged a bitter, two-year-long battle with the casino over wages and benefits, chimed in later.

"While the casino is being honored today for its safety program for patrons, we are deeply concerned about the health and safety of our members who work inside the smoke-filled casino every day," union President Wei-Ling Huber said.

Earlier, Dodson had said, "We're not taking on the smoking issue. We're honoring these individuals ... for the system they have in place to dramatically increase sudden cardiac arrest survival," adding that smoking is a matter of personal choice.

She said a new filtering system at the casino "dramatically" cuts down on smoke. Grant said there are nonsmoking areas inside the casino, in the machine area, card room and restaurant.

A semi-enclosed rectangle with about two dozen machines, carved out of the main slot machine room, is designated a nonsmoking area.

Part of the Lytton Rancheria, the casino is subject to federal law and thus immune from state restrictions on indoor smoking.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 and tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner