Help for hearts is loaded into police, fire vehicles

Grant gets defibrillators on the streets, spread across Vancouver

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter



First response enhancements

The grant money comes from contract fines Clark County EMS District No. 2 assesses against its ambulance contractor, American Medical Response. The contract fines, fees and clinical upgrade reserve have funded projects over the years to enhance first response and public safety:

1997: $151,000 to purchase 800 MHz radios for fire agencies.

1998: $223,000 to purchase 12 Lead EKGs for fire agencies.

2004: $203,000 to fund mobile computing devices for fire agencies.

2005: $56,000 for 50 AEDs distributed to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and small cities to enhance early access to defibrillation in rural areas.

2008: $22,000 for 20 AED’s to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

2009: $45,000 to purchase a simulation training manikin for use by county EMS providers.

2010: $2,000 for hypothermia resuscitation equipment for all county 911 ambulance providers.

Knowing where someone's heart will stop is like predicting lightning, but when sudden cardiac arrest strikes, every second is crucial.

To make those seconds count, 60 Vancouver police patrol vehicles have been equipped with automated external defibrillators, portable life-saving devices that shock the heart. In addition, 19 Vancouver Fire Department administrative staff vehicles were also stocked. The $1,200 devices were purchased with an $87,000 grant from American Medical Response through the Clark County EMS Council.

Vancouver firefighters get at least 200 cardiac arrest calls each year, said fire Capt. Jay Getsfrid -- at least one every other day. When the department brainstormed ways to improve cardiac arrest outcomes, working with police made a lot of sense.

"They're more dynamic in the way they move around the city," Getsfrid said, adding that police are often the first to arrive. "That's critical when someone's heart has stopped. Seconds are critical."

Evergreen High School's school resource officer, Eric McCaleb, knows that firsthand. After a student collapsed in a secretary's office the morning of Feb. 12, McCaleb and other staff members sprang into action. They helped perform CPR and used an AED to start the student's heart again. The campus has two AEDs.

Cpl. Doug Rickard is the leader of the police department's Tactical Emergency Medical Support unit and has been an emergency medical technician for 12 years. At any time, there can be 12 to 18 officers roving the city, carrying the life-saving device in their trunks. Having the equipment put officers' biannual first aid, CPR and AED training into practice.

Before the grant, Rickard said, just three police officers were equipped with AEDs: him and two other EMTs in the unit. Fire and police personnel are working on grants to get another 30 police vehicles equipped next year. They hope to partner with other city and county agencies -- such as public works and Clark Public Utilities -- to get more vehicles that rove the city ready when seconds count.

It's one step in preparing the community to respond to cardiac arrests.

Right now, someone who experiences sudden cardiac arrest in Clark County has about a 35 percent chance of surviving and being "neurologically normal," said Dr. Lynn Wittwer, program director for the county's emergency medical services. Meaning, the person lives and doesn't have any significant brain or organ damage. That's up from 10 to 15 percent in years past.

Preparing the public

Equipping more public vehicles and buildings with AEDs complements his two-year campaign to train more county residents in hands-only CPR. He hopes to get 20,000 to 30,000 people trained in this method, which doesn't call for mouth-to-mouth contact.

CPR buys time by pumping blood to the heart, increasing the chances that the heart will be treatable when someone arrives with an AED, Wittwer said. Without any blood flow, the heart loses its energy and won't respond to a defibrillator's shock.

Wittwer honored local 911 dispatchers Monday for giving instructions over the phone to people who called in cases of sudden cardiac arrest. Dispatchers are trained to encourage people to perform CPR when it's needed. The dispatcher first asks the caller questions to determine whether it's a case of sudden cardiac arrest. Is the person conscious? Breathing normally? Then they walk the caller through the steps of pressing down on the chest and counting the right beat.

As more people learn CPR, the Vancouver Fire Department hopes to encourage more of them to be first responders and help in an emergency.

The agency is sponsoring a grant to make Clark County a community covered by the smartphone app PulsePoint, which links users to the local 911 dispatch center. When there's a nearby cardiac arrest emergency, people with the app will be notified, as well as get a map locating the emergency and the nearest AED. The app is currently in its test phase and may roll out next month.