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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The best place in the country to have a cardiac arrest is in the Spokane Valley, according to the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

Spokane Valley Fire Chief Frank Soto Jr. says this contributed photo demonstrates Spokane Valley firefighters partaking in total team involvement to bring someone back from death.  (Courtesy of Spokane Valley Fire Department)
Spokane Valley Fire Chief Frank Soto Jr. says this contributed photo demonstrates Spokane Valley firefighters partaking in total team involvement to bring someone back from death. (Courtesy of Spokane Valley Fire Department)
By Mathew Callaghan The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Valley Fire Department’s high survival rate for cardiac arrest patients has earned them the Heart Safe Community Award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The award is given to firefighting agencies that handle out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases at an elite level.

SVFD Fire Chief Frank Soto Jr. has worked for a department when it won this award once before, the Albuquerque Fire Department in New Mexico.

“I’m excited, I’m very excited that we won. But I’m not surprised,” Soto said. “We’re leaders in the lifesaving business. Our goal is to provide the best quality of life for our customers, which is our community.”

The national average of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest currently sits at 7.6%, according to the National Library of Medicine; Spokane Valley Fire says its survival rate is 50% higher. While the SVFD has seen great success with their resuscitation efforts, the odds of surviving from cardiac arrest are still low. Around 130 cardiac arrests occur in the Spokane Valley area every year. Out of those 130 cases, roughly 113 die, Soto said. Despite the low odds of survival, The SVFD has brought back to life 116 community members between 2014 and 2021.

Soto said cardiac arrest calls have steadily risen since 2017.

The reason the area is seeing an increase in calls, Soto said, might be tied to population growth and longer lifespans.

“More people are moving here, and health care has gotten a lot better, so people live longer, but at some point people are still going to pass away,” Soto said.

Although Soto is no stranger to winning the Heart Safe Community Award, he gives credit to the department personnel.

“Getting an award like this is a direct reflection of how good our firefighters are,” Soto said. “Our personnel set aside a part of themselves while still providing the very best of themselves and emphasizing and relating to the customers while performing lifesaving maneuvers.”

A lot of the success of the department can also be attributed to the technology crews use to help those who go into cardiac arrest.

“(The department) uses cardiac monitors, Zoll AutoPulse for mechanical CPR, capnography to make sure we’re providing enough oxygen to a person, good, old-fashioned, high-quality CPR, oxygen and medications,” Soto said.

Soto says that the high-quality CPR that they do on those suffering from a cardiac arrest is “the backbone of everything.”

“To me, if the technology is there to help us be better, and we can afford it; then I’m going to get it,” Soto said.

Arming Spokane Valley citizens with the ability to help those suffering from cardiac arrest is crucial to Soto. “The key for our success is our community involvement,” Soto said. This includes early dialing of 911, early use of defibrillators and CPR, early advanced life support, and community education on cardiac care, Soto added.

Thanks to an app called PulsePoint, everyday people can be saved from cardiac arrest because of the quick actions of another community member. PulsePoint marks on a map where nearby defibrillators are for its users. PulsePoint also has an option that allows users to be notified when another member of the community is suffering from cardiac arrest near them, and it sends the notification at the time 911 is called. Firefighters and officials from around the country are urging more people to join PulsePoint in order to get those going through cardiac arrest a few extra minutes or even seconds that could save their lives.

Time is of the essence when a person is suffering from cardiac arrest. Valley Fire has 10 stations that are strategically located. Soto says these stations are located in these specific areas with the goal of being able to reach any part of Spokane Valley within four minutes if there’s no traffic or delays. “Generally, we get to our calls in five and a half minutes,” Soto said.

As time goes by, it becomes harder for someone experiencing cardiac arrest to be resuscitated. Any longer than four to six minutes and a patient may suffer permanent brain damage, Soto said.

The department’s continued success, Soto said, depends on education – both the continued training of his staff and Spokane Valley citizens, as well as purchases of the best equipment.

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