California Fire Department to Dispatch Citizens to Cardiac Emergencies

SAN RAMON, Calif. -- There are iPhone apps for games, to help look up Spanish phrases and for bird watching.

Now there's an app that could help users save someone's life.

The San Ramon Valley Fire Department unveiled Tuesday morning a groundbreaking iPhone application that allows users to be notified if someone nearby is suffering from sudden cardiac arrest in public places, restaurants, stores and parks. It bring up a map to show where the user is and where the victim is and the location of the nearest automated external defibrillator.

"This probably is the most important app ever written," said San Ramon Fire Chief Richard Price.

The idea is to dispatch good Samaritans who have downloaded the free app to the victim to start the CPR process before paramedics arrive. Typically a patient has about 10 minutes to live after the heart stops beating. The quicker CPR and AED can be administrated to a patient the greater the chances of survival. With response times around seven minutes, getting ordinary citizens trained in CPR to the scene, can turn them into true first responders.

"CPR stops the clock and buys time until advanced care can arrive," Price said. Cardiac arrest patients have an 8 percent chance of survival without immediate help. That jumps to 80 percent when CPR and AED are used in the first few minutes, he said.

The app is the first of its kind and was about 18 month in the making, Price said. Most of the work was done by college interns with hundreds of hours of staff time.

An incident last year prompted the idea for such a notification system. Price and members of his IT staff were having lunch when someone was suffering from a cardiac arrest next door.

Price didn't know until the fire engines arrived what was going on. He is paged for major incidents, but not medical calls. He had an AED in his car and could have helped if he had known.

For now the app works in the area covered by the San Ramon Valley Fire district, including Alamo, San Ramon, Danville, Blackhawk and nearby unincorporated areas.

The agency plans to give away the technology it helped developed for free to other agencies. Employees at Workday will be volunteering their time to help develop the application for Android and other smart phones.

Petros Dermetzis, Workday's vice president of technology, said he was impressed with the app and how there is a direct connection link between technology and helping someone.

"This is immediate ... it is extremely personal," Dermetzis said. "It talks to you immediately."

And, as for a fire department leading the charge with developing the technology, it isn't surprising said Mary Beth Michos of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

"It's a natural fit," said Michos, the organization's deputy executive director. "We are here to save lives and enable as many people to help save lives."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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