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App enlists volunteers to answer cardiac calls

Ordinary citizens will soon be called upon to help save lives as the Spokane and Spokane Valley fire departments launch a new smartphone app to alert those with CPR training about heart attacks reported nearby.

“It’s essentially crowdsourcing for cardiac arrest,” Spokane Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer said of the Pulse Point app. The app will be unveiled at a ceremony at 10 a.m. today at the Spokane Fire Department Training Center, 1618 N. Rebecca St.

People who download the free app can indicate whether they have CPR training. If dispatchers receive a call about a heart attack in a public place in a populated area, all phones with the app within a quarter mile of the call will be notified. The notification distance can be increased for rural areas.

The dispatcher will not post notifications on the app if the patient is in a private home, said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins.

With the notification of a nearby heart attack, the app will load a map with step-by-step directions to find the patient. The map also includes the location of nearby defibrillator devices.

Collins said the hope is that by having nearby citizens respond, it will increase heart attack survival rates. Even in urban areas it can take 7 to 8 minutes for firefighters get to the scene from the time of the initial phone call, he said. “The chances of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest at that moment are less than 20 percent,” he said. “If early intervention occurs, survival can be as high as 90 percent.”

The app allows the public to be a part of the lifesaving system, Schaeffer said. “I think that’s going to be incredibly powerful,” he said.

Pulse Point was created and implemented by staff at the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District in California, where Collins worked previously. People here had heard about the app and were interested in it, Collins said. “I think I was kind of the catalyst,” he said. “I was the final link. I knew how to get it done.”

The app is now managed by a private foundation that has helped launch it in 500 cities around the world, Collins said. The app only works in areas where fire departments have configured their dispatch software to interact with it.

Nearly every fire department and fire district in Spokane County has signed up to participate, Collins said.

The app has other features as well. People can sign up to follow different fire departments and decide what types of calls they want to appear in a running feed of events dating back 24 hours. The app shows what type of call it is and what units are responding. People can also listen to dispatch radio traffic.

Schaeffer said the app will continue his department’s efforts to communicate with citizens. “We’ve never really had a way, even with our Twitter feed, to share the amount of data Pulse Point allows us to share.”

The app also includes instructions on how to do hands-only CPR. “It’s such an amazing program,” Schaeffer said. “It really shows you the power of technology.”

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