In February 2014, the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest in Spokane County received a welcome uptick.
That’s when PulsePoint, a revolutionary app alerting responders to incidents of cardiac arrest in their general vicinity, was introduced locally. Responders could include anyone from the average resident familiar with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to an experienced firefighter equipped with a personal AED (Automated External Defibrillator) that analyzes the heart and delivers an electric shock to help restore proper rhythm.
PulsePoint calls attention to a cardiac arrest occurring in a public space within a quarter-mile to a half-mile radius of app subscribers while also identifying nearby AEDs that can be used to assist the person in crisis.
With an average of 1,000 cardiac arrests occurring each day in the U.S., the idea of ramping up the heart attack safety net made sense when PulsePoint was introduced a decade ago. The concept began as a sketch on a napkin in 2009 during lunch in the Bay Area. Representatives of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District were brainstorming ways of merging Northern California’s high-tech savviness with local public safety efforts.
Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins was working for the San Ramon agency at the time and recalls the energy and creative insight that went into developing the app. After Collins relocated to the Inland Northwest in 2013, it didn’t take long before he brought up PulsePoint as an option.
“I’d seen it catch on in the Bay Area pretty quickly and the success it had,” Collins recalls.
These days, nearly every fire agency in Spokane County offers the app. The Spokane Fire Department (SFD) was recently awarded with the Agency of the Year award by the PulsePoint Foundation for its effectiveness in utilizing the program. The Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD), meanwhile, earned a similar honor through the Spokane County EMS Council for posting a 74-percent cardiac arrest survival rate in 2018.
Collins says PulsePoint is just one of the reasons SVFD was so successful in saving lives last year. The agency teaches CPR at local high schools like East Valley and West Valley (Central Valley has its own program) and also offers regular CPR training to residents. Quick agency response time, well-trained paramedics and skilled hospital personnel also factor in, Collins says.
“Really, it’s all the components working like they should that are leading to these numbers,” he said.
SVFD and SFD are part of a PulsePoint “verified responder” pilot program that is also being tested in Tualatin, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin and Sioux Falls, Iowa. Firefighters and other emergency responders are alerted to cardiac incidents within a broader radius than the traditional app, calling attention to an area that includes both public places and private residences. A total of 100 personal AEDs have been distributed to local emergency personnel as part of the program.
In April, Lt. Patrick Moore of SFD was at home watching TV when his PulsePoint app sounded. A cardiac arrest was taking place just down the street. Moore grabbed his AED and rushed to the home where he found a man in distress and applied the AED, followed by CPR.
The man was later transported to a nearby hospital and survived.
While PulsePoint responders can vary broadly in their experience related to emergency incidents, Collins points out that “anything someone can do is better than nothing.” Good Samaritan laws protect those who make rescue attempts from any liability.
Research shows that survival rates of sudden cardiac arrest decrease by 10 percent with each minute that passes after the initial incident.
“Time is so critical,” Collins said.
The city of Liberty Lake currently has AEDs in place at the library, Trailhead golf course, City Hall and the police department. More have been purchased and will soon be installed at local parks. AEDs can also be found at commercial sites like the Meadowwood Technology Campus, Premier Manufacturing, STCU headquarters and more.
“This is a proactive way for the city to do what we can to help our residents until paramedics arrive,” said City Administrator Katy Allen. “We want to have AEDs readily available.”
PulsePoint subscribers can help update the local AED map by adding and updating sites where the device is located. Each AED includes directions on how to use the device.
“It’s pretty simple,” Allen said.
Allen has been a PulsePoint subscriber for three years now. She appreciates the feature that alerts her to local incidents ranging from traffic collisions to fires to ambulance responses.
“It’s helpful to know about the events in the city that are public impacts,” Allen said. “Sometimes I hear a siren and I can look at the (PulsePoint) map and see what’s happening.”
Collins, a Liberty Lake resident, says the mission of PulsePoint resonates with the human instinct to step up in times of need.
“I think that’s our default when we see something, we want to help,” he said. “The thing is we come up with these impediments like ‘I’m not trained’ or ‘I don’t know how.’ Yet, innately as humans, we do want to help each other.”
To learn more about PulsePoint or to sign up for the free app, visit pulsepoint.org.