First responders play big role in helping consumers survive cardiac arrest, study finds

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Non-medical responders like firefighters and police officers can start CPR and save a life

A new study conducted by researchers from Michigan Medicine explored how critical non-medical first responders are at the scene of emergencies or disasters. 

The findings suggest that when patients are struggling with cardiac arrest outside of the hospital, assistance from firefighters and police officers is likely to lead to better survival rates. 

“It is clear that these non-medical first responders play a critical role in time saved to chest compressions,” said researcher Dr. Mahshid Abir. “In fact, in communities that were the highest performing in the state as far as survival is concerned, those responders work closely with emergency medical services to cross-train and debrief after incidents. When these agencies see their role as not just preventing crime or stopping fires, but also saving lives, it improves the overall chain of survival for cardiac events.” 

Starting CPR as soon as possible

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 25,000 cases of cardiac arrest between 2014 and 2019. They paid close attention to first responders present at the time of the emergencies and compared the health outcomes of all the patients. 

Overall, they learned that non-medical first responders like police officers and firefighters were the first ones on the scene for nearly 32% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. In these cases, they initiated CPR with either chest compressions or an automated external defibrillator (AED). 

This early response proved to be beneficial for patients. When non-medical first responders started CPR right away, patients’ survival rates were 1.25 times higher. Similarly, when an AED was used by firefighters or police officers, patients’ survival rate was 1.4 times higher. 

“Our findings reinforce what we know: whoever can start CPR and utilize an AED first is the best person to do it,” said researcher Dr. Rama Salhi. “Sometimes, that’s bystanders, but for a large percentage who have witnessed cardiac arrests, police and fire are on the scene first. Current evidence suggests this may be in upwards of 50% of cardiac arrest calls. In a disease where seconds and minutes matter, this can be life changing.” 

The researchers hope these findings prompt better training for law enforcement and firefighters to best handle these kinds of emergencies. The team also hopes consumers better understand the significant ways that non-medical responders can affect patients’ health. 

“All of these responders can make a huge difference in the survival of a person’s loved one, so we need to educate the communities around when and for what to call 9-1-1, and also who shows up and why they need to open the door,” said Dr. Abir. “If we take this extra step to educate around the emergency response system overall, it will help improve the relationships and outcomes.” 

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