Fire department's iPhone app can help save lives

Application alerts those trained in CPR of nearby emergencies in San Ramon Valley, Calif.

The San Ramon Valley, Calif., Fire Protection District has released a free iPhone application that can make a real difference in emergencies, alerting people trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation of cardiac emergencies nearby. 

The application, Fire Department, notifies people who are trained in CPR if someone nearby might require the lifesaving technique. The app can direct responders, via Global Positioning System signals, to the closest publicly available Automated External Defibrillator.

The application is available to anyone – including other public agencies across the United States -- with an iPhone or iPad with iOS 4.2 or later at the Apple App Store.


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“The District will share tools to allow other public safety agencies to deploy the Fire Department application at no cost in their community,” San Ramon Valley’s Fire Chief Richard Price said in a statement. “Although pioneered here, the value of this application is far too important to society to not ambitiously share it with other communities around the globe.”

Alerts are sent out by 911 dispatchers via a computer-aided system, which notifies first responders as well as those signed up to receive CPR alerts via their iPhone or iPad. The system covers San Ramon’s 155 square miles including Alamo, Blackhawk, the Town of Danville, Diablo, the City of San Ramon, the southern area of Morgan Territory and the Tassajara Valley, in Northern California (Contra Costa County). San Ramon has a population of 170,000.

Users are notified of cardiac emergencies only if they’re occurring in a public place, said Kimberly French, the fire district’s information officer in a Government Technology article.

“Before this application someone who has taken a CPR class and is willing to help a fellow citizen in dire need would have had to be in precisely the right place at just the right time to make a difference,” said Dr. Joseph Barger, medical director for Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services, in a statement. “The Fire Department app casts a much wider net over many more potential rescuers and it greatly increases the odds that CPR will be started, and an AED will be used, prior to the arrival of paramedics.”

Additionally, while AEDs are commonplace in public areas such as schools, health clubs, churches, office complex and shopping centers they are often unused because people are unaware of their existence, said Captain Andy Swartzell, EMS Coordinator for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.

Emergency medical service response times can often be more than seven minutes – yet brain death begins in four to six minutes. Survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest are less than 8 percent, with nearly 300,000 deaths annually in the United States. CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, said Dr. Junaid Khan, president of the American Heart Association’s East Bay Board, but less than a third of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital get CPR from a bystander. 

Individuals who have downloaded the application and have opted to receive notifications are alerted to where CPR is needed if they are within walking distance of the emergency. Users can indicate that they have CPR training in the app, although they aren’t required to have formal training to receive alerts.

Between 300 and 500 people have downloaded Fire Department daily since its debut in January, Government Technology reported. The application also notifies users of when and where fires are occurring.

The application was designed in conjunction with students and staff at the Center for Applied Informatics at Northern Kentucky University. It is part of the Contra Costa County HeartSafe Community Program – a public health initiative to improve the odds of survival for people suffering sudden cardiac events.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs “is committed to seeing this technology implemented broadly and on multiple mobile platforms,” said Jack Parow, president of the organization.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 Southeast US

While Apple is the 600-pound gorilla in the room of smart phones, Android-based smart phones and tablets make up a not-insignificant part of the market. Microsoft Windows-Phone is also going to be not-insignificant. An app this important to lifesaving use of CPR and AEDs should be, as rapidly as possible, ported to Android and Windows-Phone. [If it were an Open Source Software app, this could be done in 6 months or less!]

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