Prudential helps county get more heart machines Goal is 2 defibrillators for every fire station

February 14, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Prudential Insurance Co. is helping Howard County fire stations get more defibrillators -- sophisticated heart machines designed to "think" as a cardiologist.

Since last fall, the county and the state have bought each of Howard's 11 fire stations one of the machines, known as automatic external defibrillators or AEDs. But the insurance company also has been contributing funds so that the stations can purchase a second machine.

The West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department is the sixth and latest to receive a second machine through Prudential's matching grant program, which requires each station to raise half the money.

The portable units analyze patients' hearts to determine if they need an electrical shock to beat normally.

Having two AEDs at each station allows patients to receive immediate care if a station's ambulance is on another call -- and firefighters say that's particularly important in the rural parts of the county.

"Being out here in the more rural end of the county where stations are more spread out, it's important we have an AED so we don't have to wait until an ambulance can come," said Lt. Debbie Saunders of the West Friendship fire station.

"We can keep one on our ambulance and one on the fire engine, and we're covered in any situation.

"If we don't have the AEDs, we can do all the CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] we want, and it's not going to -- revive someone."

More than 100 county emergency medical technicians, firefighters and paramedics have been trained since August in using the AEDs, said Dr. Kevin Seaman, medical director of the county fire department.

He said the machines have been used eight times in the county -- once saving a patient's life.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, only cardiologists could use machines like this," Seaman said. "But unfortunately, people didn't have cardiac arrests right in their doctor's office. Now we're able to train more people with the technology to recognize the rhythm and [to] shock or not shock the heart."

In using the AED, two circular patches, wired to a briefcase-size machine, are attached to the patient's chest. The machine analyzes the heart's rhythms and says "shock advised" or "shock not advised."

If a shock is needed, the machine warns everyone to stand clear.

The push of a button delivers the shock at one of three levels of intensity. The machine determines the level.

The shock interrupts the heart's irregular activity and restores a normal beat. If the first shock doesn't work, the machine may advise additional shocks.

Using an AED immediately on a heart attack patient, Seaman said, means having an 80 percent to 90 percent chance of stabilizing the person.

"The enemy is time," he said. "These help cut down that risk."

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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