Fire Department App Rallies CPR-Trained Citizens in Emergencies

Fire Department app alerts CPR-trained Good Samaritans for cardiac emergencies.

March 17, 2011— -- A new iPhone application is making it easier than ever for CPR-trained Good Samaritans to save lives.

Launched by California's San Ramon Fire Protection District, the Fire Department app alerts CPR-savvy citizens to cardiac emergencies in their areas, with the hope that they'll be able to help out until emergency professionals arrive.

The app was launched in January but got a big boost this week when San Francisco signed on as the first major city to back the technology.

"What's so important about sudden cardiac arrest is brain death occurs between four and six minutes after your heart stops. Even your best emergency services can take up to five minutes to get to the site of the patient," said Kimberly French, an information officer with the San Ramon Fire Protection District. "It's so important to bridge that gap, because what it does is it stops the clock."

Linking CPR-certified citizens to a local 911 dispatch center helps buy time until professionals can help victims of cardiac arrest, she said.

App Inspired by 'Fire Chief 2.0'

San Ramon fire officials hatched the idea after a 2009 incident in which the district's fire chief Richard Price (whom locals call "Fire Chief 2.0") was at a deli when, unbenknownst to him, a cardiac emergency was reported next door, French said.

The victim survived, she said, but the incident spurred Price and his peers to figure out how to match people with CPR training to those who need it, in real-time.

When users download the application, they're asked if they're trained in CPR. If they indicate that they are, the app quietly monitors their locations. When 911 dispatchers learn of a cardiac arrest, they can send a text-like push notification to all CPR-trained users of the application who are nearby. The message includes the location of the victim as well as the precise location of the closest public access Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Since its launch in January, Fire Department has been downloaded more than 30,000 times, French said. But so far only the San Ramon Fire Protection District is using the site.

"The ultimate goal is to make it available for all emergency services to use," French said. "It's too good for us to keep in our little jurisdiction out here in California."

300,000 Americans Die of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Annually

At a press conference Wednesday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White announced that they are working to bring the technology to the city as early as later this year.

San Ramon has not yet deployed the cardiac emergency alert, French said, but added, "at some point, someone is going to need assistance, and hopefully this will save their life."

While San Ramon has only about 100 cardiac arrests per year, an estimated 300,00 people across the country die annually of sudden cardiac arrest.

"It's a pretty big problem, and we're hopeful that our app can help be part of the solution," French said.