Rochester, MN Early Defibrillation Program

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Rochester, MN, US

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Type: Program

Status: Initiated in 1990

Source File:


What is Early Defibrillation?
Early defibrillation is a great way to save lives! As of December 7, 2007, this collaborative effort has saved the lives of more than 103 people in our community. This number reflects only patients found in ventricular fibrillation (VF) resulting from cardiac causes since our officers began carrying AEDs in November 1990. If we include non-cardiac causes and non-VF rhythms then that number increases to 119. If we include the number of survivors back to 1973, when officers delivered early CPR and the paramedics performed manual defibrillation, the number exceeds 232.

When a person suffers a cardiac arrest that is related to heart disease, quite frequently, the person’s heart is in a rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation (VF). When the heart is beating in this manner, the chambers of the heart are contracting in a chaotic manner that leaves the heart unable to pump blood through the body. If this rhythm is not corrected within eight to ten minutes, death will result. Defibrillation is the process of applying a specially designed electrical charge to the heart to stop VF and hopefully allow the return of a normal cardiac rhythm.

Medical studies have proven that the sooner a fibrillating heart can be defibrillated, the better the chances that the person will survive. Each minute that passes essentially reduces the odds of survival by 10%. If defibrillation can be accomplished within one minute of the cardiac arrest, the odds of survival are about 90%. After five minutes, the odds are about 50%. In the ten minute range, there is virtually no hope of survival.

In most communities the odds of surviving sudden cardiac arrest are in the 5-7% range. In Rochester we have driven survival from witnessed ventricular fibrillation arrests up to 52%. Thus it becomes obvious that we need to do everything humanly possible to get defibrillation equipment and CPR to the patient as quickly as possible.

How Early Defibrillation Works
It works quite well, thank you. Please forgive the lack of humility but we are quite proud of our achievements. But we brag only to challenge other communities and public safety organizations to do as well or better than we have done. The objective is to save lives rather than to take the credit.

Early defibrillation a coordinated effort involving the Rochester Police Department, Rochester Fire Department, Gold Cross Ambulance and the Mayo Clinic. When someone calls 9-1-1 in Olmsted County, the Public Safety Communications Unit of the Rochester Police Department answers that call. If the call is a medical emergency, the dispatchers will immediately transfer the call to Mayo Emergency Communications and assign two police officers and one fire company to respond immediately. Mayo Emergency Communications will dispatch Gold Cross Ambulance to the scene.

If our dispatchers learn that the medical emergency is or could be related to a cardiac problem, they assign at least one of our patrol units to respond to the call. All of our marked patrol cars are equipped with automatic external defibrillators (AEDs). Experience has shown us that police officers are typically in a better position to respond to medical emergencies. Our officers will often arrive at the scene two minutes or more ahead of the ambulance and can use those minutes to improve the odds that a victim of cardiac arrest will survive. Police officers arriving at the patient’s side will assess the patient, relay that information to the responding Gold Cross paramedics and administer whatever primary care is possible, including defibrillation and CPR if necessary.

The Rochester Police Department is backed up by the Rochester Fire Department. The additional staff provided by the Fire Department response is helpful during a cardiac arrest because there is plenty of work for everyone on the scene. In Rochester, the general philosophy is that we do not transport unstabilized patients. We bring the hospital to the patient, including a medical doctor, if available. This philosophy has been quite successful but is manpower intensive. There is plenty of work for everyone on scene.

Occasionally the Fire Department is in a better position to respond than are police officers. If the volume of priority police calls is too high or puts police officers out of position, the Rochester Fire Fighters can help assure that the patient still gets a prompt response. There are four fire stations that serve Rochester. Each station can deploy two AEDs.