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Agency promotes life-saving devices to mark EMS Week

LAWRENCEVILLE - There's a relatively inexpensive device that can help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who die each year from sudden cardiac arrest.

AEDs, or automatic external defibrillators, were once a tool used only in emergency rooms. Now, however, they are widely available for $1,200 to $2,500. This year in recognition of National EMS Week, the Gwinnett County Fire Department is asking neighborhoods, apartment complexes and businesses to purchase AEDs and keep them on hand for medical emergencies.

The device administers an electric shock to kick-start a heartbeat again.

"It doesn't replace an emergency response, what it does is just enhances what we do once we arrive at the scene," said Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department. "It also increases the chances of survival for the victim."

The Fire Department has organized a program called Heart Watch to train residents on CPR and early defibrillation for free.

The machine is simple to use, Rutledge said. It will not prompt anyone to shock a patient unless it detects the heart muscle has stopped beating and is quivering, meaning no oxygenated blood is being circulated throughout the body. Then it gives straightforward verbal commands to direct civilian emergency response while paramedics are en route.

"We want to let as many communities, subdivisions and apartment complexes know the program exists," Rutledge said. "People that are experiencing cardiac arrests are having them in their own homes. Our goal is to get that AED closer to where the patient is, and that is in their neighborhood."

AEDs have already saved lives locally. Last year, three Gwinnett sheriff's deputies, Kim Carroll, Bob Patterson and Nakia Brooks, used the device to resuscitate a man who went into cardiac arrest in the clerk's office of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Doctors credited the deputies' quick response to saving the man's life.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Heart Watch program can call Rutledge at the Gwinnett County Fire Department at 678-518-4824.

An interesting sidenote regarding EMS week: all Gwinnett County firefighters are cross-trained as either paramedics or EMTs (emergency medical technicians). In 2005, the department received 56,377 calls for service, about 75 percent of which were medical or EMS-related. There are 615 firefighters cross-trained as EMTs or paramedics to serve a county population of more than 700,000.