December 15, 2012

Cardiac arrest survival rates increase in Portland due to new techniques

By Beth Quimby
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — New emergency medical protocols adopted by the Portland Fire Department in the past year have raised the survival rates of cardiac arrest victims they treat.

click image to enlarge

Robert Nannay, left, from Old Orchard Beach visited Portland firefighters at Ladder 3 on Saturday to thank them for saving his life last Oct. From L to R. are Lt. John Hendricks, firefighters Ralph Munroe, Ryan Walsh and Wendell Howard.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Robert Nannay of Old Orchard Beach says he is walking proof.

Nannay, 71, collapsed during a routine eye exam at 53 Sewall St. on Oct. 30. The staff immediately began to administer CPR while Ladder 3 Company members raced to the scene and took over, using the new techniques.

The new protocols call on emergency rescue workers to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation chest compressions immediately at the scene, rather than first carrying the victim to an ambulance before beginning CPR.

Plus, all seven of the city’s ambulances have been fitted with new $35,000 automated external defibrillators, which provide instant feedback that guides firefighters to achieve the proper depth and rate of chest compressions.

The result: Survival rates have tripled from about 5 percent to more than 17.

“Everything you get in the emergency room is right here in the truck,” said Deputy Fire Chief David Jackson.

Portland and other departments across the state are using the new protocols, developed by the American Heart Association after massive studies found survival rates increased for victims of cardiac arrest when they were treated immediately at the scene rather than during a disruptive and time-consuming ambulance ride to a hospital.

Now, patients are resuscitated first, then taken to a hospital.

The new CPR technique no longer includes the mouth-to-mouth air component, which studies showed were no more effective than chest compressions alone. Portland firefighters have also adopted a pit crew approach, so that fresh hands are available to administer the chest compressions every two minutes.

But the public, which expects a patient to be immediately whisked off to an emergency room, has greeted the new protocols with some skepticism, said Portland Firefighter Ryan Walsh.

He said it can be stressful and difficult to explain the effectiveness of the new treatment procedures during an emergency.

“It’s a bit of a culture shock. It can be stressful and hard to explain this,” said Walsh.

Nannay, for one, is convinced.  He met with his rescuers from Ladder 3 Company on Saturday, including Walsh, Lt. Jon Hendricks, Firefighter Ralph Munroe and Firefighter Wendell Howard.

“I want to thank you people for saving my life,” said Nannay.

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