Squad obtains heart machine Volunteer company worked for year to get funds for defibrillator

November 20, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Arnold Volunteer Fire Department has become the most recent of only a handful of county volunteer fire squads to own a portable heart machine -- an automated external de-fib-ril-la-tor (AED) that can shock a heart back to life after a cardiac attack.

County officials credit the little machines -- about the size of a laptop computer -- with saving about nine lives in Anne Arundel County since local fire companies began acquiring them several years ago.

While all the county's paid fire-company stations have at least one of the machines, many of the volunteer squads lack them -- limiting the help they can give to heart attack victims at the scene.

"Before, all you could do was try to calm the patient," said Arnold volunteer firefighter Marie McHugh. "You just can't do much if you don't have the equipment."

The Arnold volunteers spent a year raising the money to cover half the machine's $3,000 cost. Prudential Insurance Co. of America, which sells life and health insurance, put up the rest as part of its national program to make the machines more available.

Health-care experts say heart attack victims have a 90 percent survival rate if the machines are used within a minute of when the heart becomes unstable or stops.

The American Heart Association began to push for the machines almost five years ago, but it is just beginning to see the results of that effort in departments such as Arnold's volunteer squad. The heart association's national goal, however, is more far-reaching. "We foresee a day when these would be as available as fire extinguishers," said Allison Dubbs, the heart association's Ohio-based marketing director.

Casinos and airlines have begun to use them, offering to train security guards and flight attendants. Casinos in Las Vegas credit the machines with saving the lives of five customers who collapsed while gambling, and Quantas Airways reported that the machine was used to get a passenger's heart pumping on a flight from Texas to Australia.

"There really is a shifting standard of emergency care going on in this country," said Dr. Mary Ann Peberdy, professor of medicine and cardiology at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, who has written several reports on the machines.

"Five or 10 years ago, it was never thought about, but now the ability to provide early defibrillation is becoming widespread," she said. "It is being performed by people really with little medical training."

Battalion Chief John Scholz, an Anne Arundel fire department spokesman, said the county wants to have every firetruck and ambulance outfitted with the portable defibrillator. "AEDs are the main link," he said, "but it's important to remember it's a team effort. It's the chain of survival from the person that calls for emergency assistance to the team that arrives."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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