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New medical emergency alert system on the horizon in most of St. Louis County

By: Jim Erickson

The PulsePoint smartphone app can alert those trained in CPR when their help is needed nearby.

In what’s predicted to be a win-win-win situation, St. Louis County fire departments and fire protection districts soon may be implementing an alert system to bring potentially life-saving help to victims of medical emergencies even more quickly than is now the case.

The Central County Emergency 911 dispatch center [CCE] is moving ahead with plans to launch the PulsePoint program, a fast-growing, nationwide system that notifies those trained in CPR whenever a sudden cardiac arrest [SCA] happens in a public place near them.

CCE’s board has endorsed the concept and the center is in the final stages of gathering technical and procedural information for instituting the program and addressing any legal issues.

The center’s operating committee, which includes a command officer from all of the agencies CCE serves, and the Greater St. Louis Fire Chiefs Association already have pledged their support of the effort.

With the program, everyday citizens who know CPR can register to be included and can install the necessary app on their smartphone to be alerted if someone nearby has suffered an SCA.

Notification would come from the dispatch center when the closest emergency medical service [EMS] also is asked to respond. The notice would go only to those registered and within a predetermined distance from where help is needed. The alert also can include information on where the nearest known automated external defibrillator can be found.

The goal is to get someone to the scene as quickly as possible to start CPR on the patient. Statistics show that the sooner CPR is started the greater the odds are for the person’s survival.

“Minutes and even seconds count in these situations and if someone is available to apply CPR before an EMS crew arrives, it can make a life or death difference,” said Mike Krause, chief of the Metro West Fire Protection District.

Krause and Deputy Chief Chris McCarthy from the Fenton Fire Protection District, have taken the lead in gathering information about PulsePoint and how it can be implemented in the area CCE serves.

CCE provides fire and EMS dispatching services to more than 30 districts and agencies that cover most of St. Louis County and portions of adjoining counties.

“What PulsePoint offers is a win-win-win scenario,” Krause said. “The first and most important win belongs to the cardiac arrest patient who survives the event to live a happy life with his loved ones.

Another win “belongs to our citizens who will have an opportunity and involvement in making the community a safer place to live and work,” Krause continued. “Those who actually find themselves at the scene of a cardiac arrest and engage in early CPR and/or AED application may have a hand in saving a life. Most people live their lives without ever experiencing such an opportunity.”

In addition, there is a win for “the fire and EMS agencies that will realize an improving rate of ROSC [return of spontaneous circulation],” Krause added. “Nothing creates more job satisfaction and sustained buy-in for our crews than saving a life. The other win for the agency is the opportunity to build or further strengthen its relationship with citizens through information and training connected with PulsePoint.”

Implementing PulsePoint likely will be a budget-neutral project for CCE because most of the departments it serves already have pledged funding assistance for the program.

Spread over all the agencies CCE serves, the initial cost is estimated at less than $1,000 per entity. In subsequent years, the annual expense is expected to be less than $600 per agency.

The East Central Dispatch Center, which provides dispatch services to eight communities in eastern St. Louis County, already is implementing PulsePoint with funding provided solely by an anonymous donor.

PulsePoint is a 501[c][3] organization, which makes private funding a viable option. Launched on the West Coast, the nonprofit is based in the San Francisco Bay area. Its website describes an incident in which a person suffered cardiac arrest at a location within steps of where someone skilled in CPR happened to be having lunch. The latter individual wasn’t aware of the emergency until an EMS crew arrived. Richard Price, who was the fire chief in California’s San Ramon Valley, has said the incident actually occurred and that he was the person nearby having lunch. He not only was certified in CPR but also had a defibrillator in his car.

That 2010 event led him to think about how technology could be used to bring help more quickly to those in need. He subsequently became president of the PulsePoint Foundation.

When the program is implemented, Krause believes there will be an increase in demand for CPR training, especially the chest-compression-only method, which has proven its effectiveness and can be learned quickly.

Krause emphasized that PulsePoint alerts go out only when someone is stricken in a public location.

“We don’t want anyone to think strangers might show up at their door when the medical emergency occurs at a private residence,” he said.

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