The county Fire Department improved the survival chances of heart attack victims this month when it completed a program to place an automatic defibrillator in each of its 29 fire stations.
The automatic external defibrillators (AED), which use electrical shocks to restart a heart stopped by cardiac arrest, cost the county $119,140. Nearly 1,300 firefighters have been trained to use them.
"The AED machines are a crucial link in the chain of survival," Battalion Chief J. Gary Sheckells said. "We have placed that crucial link in every community."
Three additional machines were donated by North Arundel Hospital, and the Fire Department has asked the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services for six more.
Those machines and extras the county purchased will be used as backup and for training, Chief Sheckells said.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks, is the leading cause of death in Anne Arundel County. Last year, more than 10 percent of emergency calls handled by the Fire Department were for cardiac arrest, officials said.
An individual with cardiac arrest is first given cardiopulmonary // resuscitation. Defibrillation is the next step -- the sooner, the better, Chief Sheckells said.
Until this year, defibrillation could be done by only one of 13 paramedic units because the older machines were more complicated and required extensive training.
With the new machines, firefighters need know only where to place the machine's electrical contact paddles on the patient's body. The AED computer analyzes the patient's heartbeat and tells the firefighters what to do next.
At the press of a button, the machine sends an electric shock through the heart and then re-analyzes the heartbeat to see if another shock is needed.
One of the defibrillators already has helped save a life.
A Hyattsville man was nearly electrocuted Jan. 22 when the boom he was using to move shingles to the roof of an Edgewater house struck electrical wires.
The jolt threw Harvey Herskovitz to the ground, and co-workers gave him CPR and called for help. Firefighters used the AED machine to start his heart and, with other medical assistance, he was conscious when he reached Anne Arundel Medical Center's emergency room.