Professional Defibrillators - Fire and EMS Defibrillator


When a person suffers from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), an automated external defibrillator (AED) is the most important life-saving tool for first responders (whether professional medical personnel or lay-responders) to have. AEDs have become standard emergency medical equipment for professional and volunteer fire departments across the country, but more need to be obtained. More than 1,200 people each day will die unless automated external defibrillators become standard life-saving equipment in all first responder vehicles, vehicles such as ambulances, fire trucks and police cruisers. Besides police officers, firefighters are usually the first responders on the scene of a medical emergency. Equipping emergency personnel with AEDs is necessary to save the lives of the up to 450,000 Americans who will suffer from sudden cardiac arrest this year.


The health benefits to each and every American community, whether small or large, can be measured in preventing the brain damage or death that SCA can cause. Sudden cardiac arrest strikes without regard to age, social or economic status, or the health of the person. Children, teenagers, adults and the elderly can all be victims of SCA. Sudden cardiac arrest usually occurs without warning. It can happen while playing sports, doing yard work or sitting at a desk.

High stress jobs such as those performed by EMS personnel can cause the risk of SCA to be even higher.

Firefighters and other emergency responders can suffer from SCA in high numbers because of the nature of their jobs. Dealing with smoke and fumes, intense heat and heavy safety equipment can exact a toll on their hearts. According to the National Fire Protection Association, at least 50% of firefighter deaths in the last 15 years have been caused by sudden cardiac arrest. Equipping fire trucks and other emergency vehicles then, not only helps keep the public safe, but the first responders safe as well.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden interruption of the heart’s ability to pump blood. When the heart begins to pump erratically, ventricular fibrillation occurs. If fibrillation is allowed to continue, the heart will eventually stop beating, the victim will lose consciousness and collapse. Eventually, breathing will cease and the victim will die if left untreated. Treatment has to begin within minutes of the collapse. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is helpful, but CPR alone will not restart the heart. CPR can only pump oxygenated blood through the heart and body for a limited time. It cannot reverse SCA or restart the victim’s heart. If CPR is performed without defibrillation, the chances that the victim will survive are minimal.

An automated external defibrillator is needed in order to defibrillate (shock) the heart and restart its normal rhythm. If defibrillation does not occur within five minutes, brain damage is likely, and the longer the SCA is allowed to continue, the more likely it is that the victim will die. For every minute that passes during sudden cardiac arrest, the victim’s chances of surviving the SCA lessen by ten percent. Therefore, immediate and proper treatment is needed. In order for that to happen, AEDs need to accompany the first emergency responders to the scene.


Automated external defibrillators are designed to be easy to use, most are portable and are small enough to store in a vehicle. In order to use an AED training is required. The American Heart Association offers classes, along with CPR training, that can take as little as four hours. Four hours to learn how to save a life is time well spent.

The Portland, Maine Fire Department implemented an AED program in the 1990s. Using guidelines set forth by the American Heart Association, they train every member of the department in two-three hour sessions, and have a yearly two hour re-certification course. Once the AED program was implemented and the EMS personnel were trained, they in turn trained other department personnel. This ensured that costs were kept down and that everyone had the same training background. The Fire Department also took on the responsibility of working with the Police Department, the Public Works departments and the community as a whole to educate everyone on the importance of early defibrillation.

The AEDs on the market today are designed to talk a first responder through the rescue with voice prompts; some even have on-screen video prompts. Each step is clearly stated and if a shock is needed, the AED will tell the responder when to push the button.

On January 25, 2008 six teenagers from Lincoln County, North Carolina were able to use the lifesaving skills they had learned from a paramedic to save that paramedic’s life! Members of the Lincoln Lifesaving Crew had come by the Lincoln County Rescue Squad to visit. As they were getting ready to leave they stopped by Captain Ken Morrison’s desk to say goodbye. When they got to his desk, they found Capt. Morrison unresponsive and not breathing. They immediately called for help and grabbed the automatic external defibrillator. They had to shock Capt. Morrison twice to get his heart restarted and then began performing CPR. Capt. Morrison, a paramedic since 1999, taught the six kids how to use the AED several months earlier, never knowing that he might be the one to need the rescue!

Once an AED has been placed in an emergency vehicle, making sure that the equipment is maintained and the batteries are always charged is of the utmost importance. Without a charged battery, an AED is useless. For firefighters and EMS professionals beginning each shift with an equipment status checklist should be standard operating procedure. This status check should be done for all equipment, but especially for the most important life-saving tools like automated external defibrillators.

The main part of the AED unit to check is the batteries. Are they ALL charged and will they continue to hold a charge during an emergency? When purchasing an AED be sure to find out how long the battery is expected to last. The shelf life of most batteries can be up to four years. However, if the AED is used for training purposes, or tests, or in multiple emergencies, the battery will be depleted faster.

Some AED manufacturers have designed battery packs that hold more energy than a traditional battery, and some come with software that will track the use and charging history of the battery. Others may come with chargers, or a separate charger can be purchased. Just make sure that the charger is compatible with the battery of the AED unit. Making sure that the AED is charged and ready to be used is as important as having the equipment itself.

Firefighters and EMS personnel are on the front lines of medical emergencies day in and day out. Ensuring that they have the proper equipment to save a sudden cardiac arrest victim from certain death is of the utmost importance. Outfitting all fire engines, ambulances and police cruisers with automated external defibrillators is a necessary part of public safety and a necessary part of life-saving equipment.