The Wauwatosa Fire Department has launched a new campaign it hopes will save more lives and it's enlisting the help of the public to do so.

In an effort to reduce the number of people who die from sudden cardiac arrest, the fire department has joined a national movement to promote survival. The program — called the "Heart Safe Tosa Initiative" — strives to train 10 percent of the Wauwatosa population in hands-only CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) use.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. The time and mode of death are unexpected and it occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear.

According to the American Heart Association, about 360,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen every year in the United States.

Updates to CPR

Ugaste said it's no longer necessary for those performing CPR to use the common "mouth-to-mouth" technique. These days, a hands-only CPR option, or just compressions on a patient's chest, will suffice until professional emergency responders arrive. The hands-only option can be taught in as little as five or six minutes, he said, and for a cardiac arrest patient, fast action is key. For every minute the heart is not shocked, survival decreases by 10 percent.

"We get there as quickly as we can," Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said of local emergency personnel when called to an incident. "But by the time the call gets handled by dispatch, even when everything works, it may take as many as seven minutes to get there," Ugaste said.

That's where the public can step in.

The fire department is pushing a new phone app called "PulsePoint." The free app, available for iOS and Android devices, alerts CPR-trained bystanders to a cardiac emergency in the immediate vicinity — and only those in public spaces, Ugaste said. Those with the app will receive an alert the same time as emergency personnel, but it's possible they could arrive even before EMS teams do.

PulsePoint also includes a location for the nearest AED — a lightweight, portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart — and often includes a photograph of what its location inside the building looks like. Another goal of the program is to equip more businesses with AED devices. Fire department personnel said all Wauwatosa police squad cars are equipped with AED devices, as are all public schools.

Division Chief Chris Sandoval said the public should not be intimidated by learning CPR. Those who do complete the training find it to be remarkably easy.

Organizations, businesses or schools can be recognized as a Heart Safe Tosa partner if they meet a number of requirements including: the facility will purchase and maintain an AED stored on premise and will be available for first responders to borrow, 40 percent of the facility's personnel is trained on CPR and AED use, and one simulated sudden cardiac arrest drill is done annually.

The AED units cost about $1,000, Ugaste said, but the benefits of having one in a business far outweigh the expense to purchase one.

"What a great thing to say about your business," Ugaste said of those with AEDs.

Fire department goals

The PulsePoint app is not necessarily just for those who have received CPR training, said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Case. Directions on how to perform hands-only CPR can be found in the app, which also includes a metronome to ensure compressions are even and timed correctly.

"We love the idea of perfect compressions, but if you don't do it, it's better than no help at all," Case said. "Any compression you do, even if it's not the perfect depth or the perfect rate, is better than not helping the person at all."

The faster CPR and shocks are administered early on during a sudden cardiac arrest episode, the higher the survival rate, Case said. Plus, thanks to bystander intervention, respiration will be restored once paramedics arrive to stabilize and transport the patient.

Program goals

The Heart Safe Tosa program lists the following as its goals:

  • Ten percent of the Wauwatosa population will be trained in hands-only CPR and AED use. 
  • Bystander CPR will be performed in more than 60 percent of witnessed sudden cardiac arrest events in public areas.
  • The time between 911 activation and first shock will be less than six minutes, 90 percent of the time. 
  • The Milwaukee County EMS Medical Director will review and critique all resuscitations. 
  • The community survival rate (discharge from hospital) for witnessed ventricular fibrillation will be 50 percent or greater. 

Ugaste said a new law will help the Wauwatosa fire department reach its goals; Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill earlier this year that requires Wisconsin schools to provide CPR training in every health course between seventh and 12th grades.

The fire department routinely offers CPR classes, but staff plans to train community members at events like the Tosa Farmers Market and Tosafest. Community members may also learn CPR at the fire department, 1601 Underwood Ave., where a number of CPR-related resources are also available.

"If we can save one more life, it's all worth it," Ugaste said.

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The Wauwatosa Fire Department is encouraging use of the Pulse Point CPR app to speed response to people suffering a heart attack. C.T. Kruger

For more information call the Wauwatosa Fire Department at 414-471-8490.

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