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.
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.