Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

Imbler Rural Fire Protection District’s emergency responders are now equipped to save more lives thanks to 12 additional defibrillators that have been distributed throughout the fire district.

Imbler’s department chief, Mike Barry, and members of the medical team started their automated external defibrillator acquisition project after first witnessing high performance cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator demonstrations at the Northeast Oregon Emergency Medical Services Conference in Pendleton last spring. The team gathered extensive information there, and Barry took the idea to his board for approval. When the new budget year rolled around last July, Barry was poised to make a purchase.

“We budgeted $10,000 for eight or nine defibrillators,” Barry said, “(Then) we worked with our friend Dick Burch from Wallowa County Project Heartbeat, and he met with us and was able to get us 12 defibrillators for the money we had set aside.”

Burch is a first aid CPR instructor through Red Cross, “a passionate and caring man who wants to save lives,” Barry said. As director of the nonprofit organization Project Heartbeat, Burch has acquired and distributed 70 defibrillators in key locations throughout Wallowa County in the past nine years. He also placed defibrillators on the Eagle Cap Excursion Train and at the Elgin train depot. He heads up the first responder team for these remote excursions.

When Barry contacted Burch about getting defibrillators for his rescue volunteers, Burch responded favorably because the request fit the mission of Project Heartbeat — to make accessible and place defibrillators in key locations. Burch also had a good medical equipment supplier to help him do that.

“Since I purchase so many AEDs, I’m able to get them from my medical supplier from Tennessee at a good rate,” Burch said. “I was able to give the Imbler fire department a very good buy.”

A new defibrillator can cost about $1,700, but Burch purchased Imbler’s equipment for about half that price because they are factory recertified and refurbished units. It takes only one medic to operate a defibrillator, so the price break allowed for 12 of the 14 Imbler responders to have his or her own machine to take on medical calls in the field.

“We get 60 medical calls a year, and about 20 percent of those are cardiac related,” Barry said. “A few of those are pulseless applications that we need to try fibrillation on. If we’re there within 10 minutes and do really good CPR, oxygenate that heart and give them a good (defibrillator) shock, that starts that heart back up.”

Forrest Warren, the Imbler Quick Response Team trainer, knows the importance of those critical first 10 minutes.

“With people having sudden cardiac arrest, it’s all about time,” Warren said. “Survival rates are really good if you can get to the patient in less than 10 minutes. Within a couple of minutes is even better.”

In the past, Imbler’s first responders would have to hurry to the Imbler fire house first, Warren said, and get the big defibrillator unit and trauma equipment before driving out to the patient, but by then it was almost always too late. The solution was to have more defibrillators accessible to trained responders.

“Each responder has his or her own trauma bag, oxygen and now also a defibrillator in their personal vehicle, so they are the full mobile package,” Warren said.

The defibrillators have audio and visual prompts that guide the responder through the steps of chest compressions, and then it analyzes whether a shock is needed to restore natural heart rhythm. It also has a screen that shows the patient’s heartbeat rhythms, which the responder is trained to read.

When sudden cardiac arrest occurs, only half of the victims will need a shock, but all victims will require cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and a portable defibrillator helps responders do both effectively. The Imbler Quick Response Team members feel much better equipped to do that now, Warren said.