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November 22, 2000

Defibrillators enable police to give live-saving assistance

Amid the fanfare and fireworks of Discov- ery Weekend, Pitt police vehicles began carrying four unadorned, 6-lb. boxes. Each holds the power to save the lives of cardiac arrest victims.

The four Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) analyze the heart's rhythm. If the devices sense an irregular heartbeat, they tell emergency workers — literally, through a voice-prompt system — to administer a 19,000-volt shock. The shock stops the irregular beat and encourages the heart to restart itself in a normal rhythm.

"Thanks to these devices, we can respond with state-of-the-art equipment within a few minutes, anywhere on campus, to emergency calls involving apparent cardiac arrest victims," said Pitt police officer Bob Kolesky.

"Every minute counts during a cardiac arrest," added Kolesky, a 37-year Pitt police veteran.

Kolesky saw the AED's effectiveness in 1999 while leading the Oakdale fire department's quick response service. Kolesky's Oakdale unit used the AED plus CPR to save the life of a man suffering from respiratory and cardiac arrest.

Pitt police usually arrive ahead of city units at the scene of medical emergencies on campus. Kolesky recalled his frustration at waiting for AED-equipped city paramedics to arrive. "You just felt helpless, knowing you didn't have all of the equipment you might really need."

Kolesky prepared a proposal to the Pitt administration, arguing for purchase of several AEDs. He credits Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran for allocating $14,000 to buy four AEDs and a training model, and to train all 94 Pitt police personnel (including clerical staff) to use the devices.

The Survivalink AEDs that Pitt purchased are "idiot-proof," Kolesky said. Open the device's lid and a recorded voice begins issuing instructions, walking users step-by-step through the process. Chest electrodes are interchangeable; there's no risk of confusing plus and minus electrodes, as with some AED models.

So sophisticated is the machine that it won't allow users to shock a patient for whom CPR or simple first aid would suffice. And, the device maintains a record of every move taken (or not taken) by emergency workers from the moment the AED's lid is opened.

Pitt police made sure its AEDs were in service by last month's Discovery Weekend, knowing the event was expected to bring some 1,500 visitors to campus.

Kolesky said Pitt police expect to use the AEDs only 2-3 times per year, although they will routinely bring the devices when responding to calls involving people suddenly collapsing or complaining of heart attack-like symptoms.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 7

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