Grant helps Kenai to get defibrillators

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Alaska, according to a division of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and emergency responders in Kenai want to keep that from being a leading cause of death among people in Kenai.

Thanks to a federal grant, they've got five new machines to help them with that mission.

The city received five automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) July 24 from the state through a grant from U.S. Health and Human Services.

"Of all the things that have come down the pike, I'm the most excited about these," said Kenai's Assistant Fire Chief Michael Tilly. "... In one way I hope they never have to be used, but in another way, I kind of hope they do because I think they'll truly help a person's survival of cardiac arrest."

Cardiac arrest happens when the normal electrical rhythms of a person's heart become erratic and the heart stops pumping blood effectively.

In a sudden cardiac arrest situation, AEDs analyze the heart's rhythm and tell the operator to deliver a shock to the victim. If AEDs are used along with CPR administered by bystanders until emergency responders reach the scene, they can dramatically improve the survival rate of sudden cardiac arrest cases, Tilly said.

Tilly provided the statistic that in Seattle, there has been a 45-percent survival rate of sudden cardiac arrests since citizen CPR and AED programs began, compared to the national average of 5 percent.

"The most important treatment for sudden cardiac arrest is defibrillation; because the longer defibrillation is delayed, the poorer the chances of survival," said Mark Johnson, chief of the Alaska Department of Heath and Social Services' section of Community Health and Emergency Medical Services, which distributed the AEDs to Kenai and 21 other communities in Alaska.

Kenai already had two heavy-duty defibrillators in its ambulances that paramedics are trained to use. The new AEDs are a less-elaborate version that can be used by people in the community.

"They're absolutely the most simple thing to run in the world," Tilly said. "They're absolutely fool-proof."

Four of the new AEDs will be placed at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center.

"This state as a whole has an aging community and our community is no different," Tilly said.

The grant Kenai received requires the fire department to form partnerships with the locations where the AEDs are kept, so the department and the center have entered an agreement where the center will maintain the AEDs, by checking the batteries and such, and the department will train center personnel on how to use them.

Tilly said the AED training will be added to regular first aid and CPR certification training, so people throughout the community can learn how to use them.

People who become certified in AED use, along with first aid and CPR, will not be replacing paramedics, however.

"Part of their training is to notify 911 and have the ambulance respond," Tilly said. "It's to keep a tight chain of events. The first responder is able to recognize a problem, call 911, start immediate first aid and CPR and use of an AED. The whole key to cardiac arrest survival is quick defibrillation."

Alaska's "good Samaritan" law was updated in 1998 to protect trained emergency responders using AEDs, just as it protects people certified in CPR and first aid from lawsuit if something goes wrong while they administer care.

According to Tilly, AEDs are becoming mainstream in the private industry. Casinos in Las Vegas, airlines and even some homes of high-risk heart disease patients have AEDs. Locally, every high school on the Kenai Peninsula has an AED and people trained to use it.

The fire department will keep its other new AED in an emergency response vehicle as a back-up in case both ambulances are occupied and there's a cardiac arrest situation in the city. Tilly said he hopes to obtain more AEDs for the city, in which case they would be placed in high-traffic areas, such as the airport.

Central Emergency Services began installing AEDs in other central peninsula locations in February, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building, the borough maintenance building, the Kenai River Center and Skyview, Soldotna and Kenai Central high schools.

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