By NINA CULVER
For Coeur Voice
Bonner County will soon be served by PulsePoint, a smartphone app that can summon bystanders who know CPR to the scene of a nearby heart attack so they can begin CPR before paramedics arrive.
When people download the free app they can indicate whether they have CPR training. After a 911 call is placed to report a possible heart attack in a public location, all phones that have the app within a quarter of a mile from the location will get an alert.
“It’s a tone out over the phone, kind of like an Amber Alert,” said cardiologist Dr. Ron Jenkins, medical director for Bonner County EMS.
Anyone receiving an alert will receive directions to the patient and a map showing the location of any nearby defibrillator devices. Alerts will only be sent if the patient is in a public location.
Heart attack patients can suffer brain damage or die if they go without CPR for more than five minutes, Jenkins said. Some of those patients will have a life threatening arrhythmia, he said.
“That’s when the heart flutters or fibrillates and there’s no blood flow,” he said. “Those are the patients that need immediate CPR.”
Alerting people with CPR training that someone nearby needs their help should help more heart attack victims survive, Jenkins said. “It’s very clear to me as a cardiologist that if you can respond with CPR and quick defibrillation, people can survive these a lot and if you don’t have these, you don’t survive. We really, really wanted to find a way to lower mortality and improve outcomes.”
Bonner County, much of which is rural, is unique in that it doesn’t have a hospital equipped to handle heart attack patients. Jenkins said Bonner County EMS transports those patients directly to Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene.
PulsePoint was created several years ago by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District in California. The app is now managed by a private foundation and has spread around the world. Jenkins heard about the app, which has been used by most of the fire departments in Spokane County since 2014, and applied for a grant from the BNSF Foundation to pay for the start-up costs.
“It was clear it wasn’t going to happen if we didn’t come up with the money,” Jenkins said.
The BNSF Foundation awarded Bonner County EMS $25,000 to get Pulse Point up and running.
Bonner County EMS Chief Jeff Lindsey said he was enthusiastic about the project when Jenkins first approached him about it.
“Early CPR, early AED use is critical,” he said. “It has to happen. Minutes passing by make our jobs harder. If there’s something we can do to make that happen, we should do it.”
An initial meeting has already been held with PulsePoint representatives. Jenkins said most of the preparation involves the Bonner County EMS dispatch system. “There’s a server that goes in and software,” he said.
Lindsey said his department is also working to map the current location of all AED devices in the county and encourage the installation of more.
“We’re taking this workload on to make sure it’s done correctly,” he said.
They’re also preparing to offer multiple hands-only CPR training classes throughout the county in January and February. “We want to make sure we’re not just releasing this without offering training,” Lindsey said.
Jenkins said CPR classes will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays at the Sandpoint Public Library (Jan. 15 and 29; Feb. 5, 12, and 26), as well as Saturdays at the Bonner County headquarters at 1500 Highway 2 in Sandpoint (Jan. 11, 18, and 25; Feb. 1, 8, and 15). Additional sessions throughout the county are still being scheduled and will be listed on the Bonner County web site, Jenkins said. The classes will also cover how to use AED devices.
While it is the fire departments that sign up for PulsePoint in Spokane County, things work differently in Idaho, Lindsey said.
“The counties are responsible for EMS,” he said. “We’re the ones with the paramedics.”
There is still a lot to work on before PulsePoint can be used and neither Lindsey nor Jenkins is sure if the quarter-mile notification radius can be expanded in the more rural areas of the county. “I don’t know if in certain areas you can make the net wider,” Lindsey said. “Even if it’s only working in Sandpoint and our populated areas, that’s where the majority of our calls come from.”
The app also has other features that will provide information to the public. It will list every call Bonner County EMS responds to as it is dispatched and people will be able to scroll back through 24 hours of calls. Each call will list the units that were dispatched, whether or not they are on scene and provide a map showing the location of each call. There’s also the option to listen to dispatch radio traffic.
Jenkins said he hopes to have Bonner County EMS live on the PulsePoint app in March or April after installation and testing of the software. People can download the app now but the department won’t be listed until it’s live.
“I’m optimistic this is going to make a difference,” he said.