Patrol: Automatic External Defibrillators

By Rhodes, David | Law & Order, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Patrol: Automatic External Defibrillators


Rhodes, David, Law & Order


Defibrillation is the process of stopping a fatal heart rhythm with a controlled electrical shock. It may be the only hope for victims of sudden cardiac arrest. Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are currently the most efficient means of delivering rapid defibrillation at non-hospital cardiac arrest scenes.

Businesses, federal facilities, sports teams, airlines, airports, gambling casinos, police and fire departments are on the growing list of AED supporters who can report "saves" with these valuable instruments. Though there are no statistics on how often AEDs are used by non-traditional responders, industry estimates indicate 5,000 AED units were in use in 1996, approximately 21,000 in 2001, and a projected 50,000 AED units will be in the hands of first responders whose medical skill levels are below that of an EMT, by 2006.

Some police departments have defibrillators, but not as many as there should be. In many cases police officers arrive prior to EMS personnel at cardiac arrest scenes and AED trained officers would be in a position to deliver life-saving defibrillation. Rapid AED intervention saves lives.

Concerns about liability, training and AED costs are stopping some departments from equipping officers with this life-saving technology. Yet the AED is easy to operate and as the success of the instrument spreads, community support or grant money can help supply an AED to even the smallest department.

The American Heart Association feels all personnel whose jobs require they perform basic CPR should also be trained to operate and permitted to use defibrillators, particularly AEDs. It is not an exaggeration to say every police department should have AEDs in their squad cars and train officers to use them.

One Incident is a good example. On September 11, 2000, a 20 year old female Indiana University student lost consciousness while sitting on a bench outside of a classroom. The 911 system was activated by on-scene witnesses and an LU. police officer and both an LU. Risk Management employee were on the scene within two minutes. After determining the student was pulseless they began performing CPR. Within two minutes of the start of CPR, David DeGroote, EMT-P and director of the Bloomington Hospital Ambulance Service, arrived and attached an AED to the patient. A shockable heart rhythm was indicated and after just one shock the fibrillation was stopped. CPR was continued for approximately another minute when the student's normal heart rhythm took over and her heart began beating on its own. She was transported to the Bloomington Hospital where she made a full recovery.

This story could have easily ended differently. CPR by itself is not effective a high percentage of the time. It was CPR with the addition of the AED with rapid defibrillation that made the difference.

There is a mistaken belief that CPR and AEDs are needed only for heart attack victims or the elderly. The AED Resource Center notes that sudden cardiac arrest does not necessarily mean the person has had a heart attack. A heart attack is usually due to an obstructed artery that reduces blood flow to the heart and generally produces warning signs- pain or tightness in the chest and shortness of breath- and may lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Many people who experience sudden cardiac arrest are the victims of an electrical disturbance that stops the heart's normal beating rhythm. This electrical disturbance can happen to anyone, including young and healthy individuals, and can happen without any warning. The reason for this phenomenon is unknown, but sudden cardiac arrest is caused by ventricular fibrillation approximately 65% of the time.

What Does an AED Do?

Ventricular fibrillation causes the heart to stop its normal beating rhythm and develop an extremely rapid, chaotic rhythm that starts in the ventricles and causes the heart to quiver. This quivering stops the heart from pumping blood effectively and will not stop without aid. …

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