GRFD’s new CPR approach saving heart patients

Grand Rapids, CPR training
Grand Rapids firefighters undergo CPR training. (Aug. 24, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids fire crews are now taking a page out of NASCAR’s handbook when it comes to saving sudden cardiac arrest patients. They call it “pit crew CPR.”

When firefighters get a cardiac arrest call, dispatchers now send not one but two fire companies and a battalion chief.

“There’s someone in charge, someone directing the overall picture, so to speak,” said Capt. Mark Fankhauser, the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s EMS coordinator. “We’re changing our compressors out — and those are the people who are actually supplying chest compressions on the victim — every two minutes to ensure that a fresh set of hands are doing solid and the correct rate and depth of the compression for that patient.”

Grand Rapids, CPR training
Grand Rapids firefighters undergo CPR training. (Aug. 24, 2017)

That’s important, as chest compression can last several minutes.

Other firefighters will be running the automatic external defibrillators (more commonly known as AEDs) or making sure the patient is getting air.

Grand Rapids used to send a single neighborhood fire company, usually with three firefighters aboard, to a cardiac arrest call. Now those calls will get a crew of at least six. The end result is an intense, well-choreographed lifesaving effort that looks a lot like a February Sunday at Daytona.

And more patients are making it to the doors of the emergency room alive.

“Our success now is greater and that number has increased roughly to about 10 percent more than what we’ve seen in the past,” Fankhauser said.

So far this year, Grand Rapids has seen a 35 percent increase in sudden cardiac arrest from 2016 — and 2017 is far from over. Firefighters say the figures show the new plan is vital.

“To ensure that we’re doing everything possible to increase the outcome potential of our patients suffering from cardiac arrest,” Fankhauser said.

There are things you can do to help save a life if someone’s heart stops working, like taking a course in basic first aid, including CPR.

“We want the public to have early recognition, early activation of the 911 systems, early retrieval of the AED and right away, get on the chest and start doing chest compressions,” Fankhauser said.