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Fire District 3 adds mechanical CPR device

A device that performs CPR on cardiac arrest patients is now part of Fire District No. 3’s lifesaving arsenal, and firefighters say it should help to save more lives.

The Zoll AutoPulse is described as a band that gets wrapped around a person’s torso, and the device performs a series of squeezes, pushing blood through the circulatory system like chest compressions. The process allows paramedics to get the heart started quicker before transporting them to the hospital. Fire District 3 debuted four of the machines this month, one stored on each of their “first out” fire engines. The devices came with a $50,000 price tag.

“My belief and philosophy is that cardiac arrest is one of the most important calls that I’ll run in a shift,” said Fire District 3 paramedic Alex Cummings. “It’s one of the biggest things that we can have an impact in, even though the chance of someone’s survival is pretty low.”

“Out-of-hospital” cardiac arrests affect about 350,000 people per year in the United States, according to the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival — CARES. The database was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emory University School of Medicine in 2004, intended to “measure outcomes and progress in the treatment of (out-of-hospital cardiac arrests),” a CDC report said.

“Despite decades of research, median reported rates of survival to hospital discharge are poor (10.4%) and have remained virtually unchanged for the past 30 years,” the CARES website said.

Fire District 3’s numbers have been in line with national numbers.

“It’s just the nature of cardiac arrest,” Cummings said.

Uninteruppted CPR is key in giving patients a fighting chance. That’s difficult to do, Cummings said, as other steps such as ventilating the patient and shocking their stopped heart must be taken into account.

“We need to give them medications. We need to get them to the hospital,” he said. “But all those things do very little for someone when their heart isn’t getting chest compressions.”

The device also allows paramedics to move with the patient, CPR continuing while the patient is being carried or loaded onto a gurney.

“Which we couldn’t do before,” Cummings said. “We had to stay on the scene until we got their heart started again.”

Cummings referred to the device’s mechanical chest compressions as circumvential, a process that grips then releases the whole torso rhythmically. It’s a different process than the typical chest compression, in which a paramedic tries to do about 100 to 120 chest compressions a minute, pushing down on the chest about two inches. The AutoPulse delivers about 80 compressions. Cummings referred to a wet sponge, how squeezing it is more efficient at moving the water through the material than prodding the middle section with your fingers.

“This band is actually changing inner thoracic pressure, and allowing the heart to refill and compressing it all the way around ... top to bottom,” Cummings said.

The device can only be used on adults. It can’t be used on those whose cardiac arrest is due to trauma to their head, neck or torso, or on pregnant women.

“If we manage it, it can do CPR perfectly on a patient for an indefinite amount of time,” Cummings said.

The AutoPulse isn’t a “magic bullet,” he added, but it does improve a patient’s chances of survival.

AutoPulse isn’t the first tool local fire agencies have sought to improve odds for cardiac arrest patients. In 2017, the PulsePoint Respond app debuted in Jackson County. Users — prompted to acknowledge they know how to administer CPR upon the app installation — receive alerts whenever a cardiac arrest requiring an automated external or CPR was reported to 911. Anyone within about 400 yards of such incidents receives notifications, increasing the chances of care prior to the arrival of emergency responders.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJackson County Fire District 5 firefighters and paramdedics demonstrate how a Zoll AuotPulse works Wednesday at the White City fire station.