Defibrillator could be lifesaver on West Carter medical calls

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   Death has a way of pointing out our weaknesses. For West Carter Volunteer Fire Department, it was a $2,500 piece of equipment that might have saved a life.
   Members of the county's seven volunteer fire departments are now trained first-responders, meaning they assist Carter County Rescue Squad by responding to medical emergency calls.
   Among the seven fire departments, West Carter has 15 to 16 trained first-responders and six Emergency Medical Technicians.
   Chad Leming, a firefighter and EMT for the department, said West Carter responds to about 20 cardiac arrest cases annually, in addition to other calls.
   It was during one such call that the need for an Automatic External Defibrillator arose.
   "We had a lady that was in cardiac arrest and we went to the call, which was right beside the fire department," Leming said.
   "We help the squad. Sometimes we get there quicker, sometimes we don't. The rescue squad was farther away and took a bit longer to get there," he said. "I thought that we might could have saved her if we had had an AED to shock her with."
   Instead, the woman died.
   "With CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) you've got a slim chance of living," Leming said. However, depending on arrival time, "with the defibrillator, you increase it up to 90 percent."
   After the incident, Leming said, "I sent letters to churches and businesses in our area," soliciting donations. "We had a special fund-drive to get an AED and another medical suction unit."
   The fund drive was completed in September with the fire department raising nearly $3,500.
   The AED cost about $2,500, Leming said. "Within the fire department, the members raised $1,400. From businesses we got $1,500, and $525 from churches. Donors included: Dr. Steven Bowers, AmeriSource Pharmaceutical, Milligan College, Steve Townsend Paint & Lacquer, Taylor Battery and Wal-Mart.
   "Wal-Mart has matching grants and a bonus grant, and we got the bonus grant, which was $500," Leming said.
   Beechcliff Freewill Baptist, Grace Freewill Baptist, Green Pine Baptist, Tabernacle Church of God and Zion Baptist were among the churches donating.
   Anyone can use the defibrillator, Leming said. "It's automatic. They're wanting to get it on all fire trucks and put it in Wal-Mart and different places. They have it now at some airports."
   With the money left over from the AED purchase, the fire department bought a portable suction unit used to keep a person's airway clear and open.
   "The rescue squad tries to supply us most of our medical equipment, but the big stuff like the AED costs so much they can't give them to all of the fire departments," he said.
   West Carter has purchased a new first-responder truck and now uses the AED on all medical calls. "We used it the first day we had it," Leming said. "That's unbelievable, but we did. We didn't actually shock the patient but we did put it on them. It didn't detect a shockable rhythm."
   With a printer, which is still on the horizon for local fire departments, the first-responder can make a print-out for hospital personnel which details what happened, when the person was shocked, and what kind of rhythm they were in, according to Leming.
   David Nichols, deputy director of Carter County EMS and president of Carter County Fire Association, said the rescue squad is seeking grant money to equip the remaining fire departments with AED's.
   "We're trying to make sure that all seven fire departments have one. We've supplied three: one to Stoney Creek, one to Elk Mills, and one to Central. We're going to try to buy the rest of them one shortly. West Carter took the initiative and bought themselves one."
   Nichols said Stoney Creek already has used its AED three times.
   "All you have to do is know to push the green button that says 'On,' and once you do that, it tells you verbally how to do the rest of it -- it talks to you.
   "Once you turn it on, it tells you: 'Check for pulse, place this pad here, place this pad there, make the connections, touch the analyze button, don't touch the patient, shock advise, charging, clear patient, push button to deliver shock ...'
   "All fire departments are running medical calls and that's one piece of machinery they need," Nichols said.