Taking a modern approach to the life-saving business, this summer the Syosset Volunteer Fire Department has become one of the first of its kind in Nassau County to carry automatic external defibrillators and other emergency medical equipment on all of its vehicles, according to fire department officials.
"Studies have shown that early defibrillation [a shock to the heart] in cases of cardiac arrest greatly increases the chances of survival," said Mike Caraturo, first lieutenant of the department's Rescue Squad, the members of which both fight fires as well as treat medical patients and transport them to the hospital. Caraturo became a strong advocate of acquiring the defibrillators after attending an EMS convention in Baltimore earlier this year.
Before this recent addition of equipment, only the ambulance vehicles operated by Caraturo's Rescue Squad were designed and equipped specifically for medical responses. But occasionally, said Caraturo, a regular fire truck responding to a non-medical alarm would happen upon the scene of a medical emergency without an ambulance to assist. "It has happened before," attested Caraturo. "You're returning from a call, heading back to headquarters when you run into a medical emergency."
Rather than waiting for an ambulance vehicle to arrive, now firemen can immediately provide crucial treatment until the ambulance arrives.
The defibrillators can potentially be a life-saver to firemen as well, as, explained Caraturo, "The main cause of fatalities of firemen is a heart attack."
The defibrillators were manufactured by Heartstream, and were programmed so that even the inexperienced can use it. Firefighters, after determining that a victim's pulse has stopped, place shock pads over the victim's chest. The machine then administers a jolt to the patient.
This "smart" defibrillator is able to determine by itself whether the victim's heart rhythm is one than requires additional shocks, and informs the firefighter how to act.
It is already predetermined within the machine how strong the shock will be. The first shock is 200 joules. If a second jolt is needed, the strength is raised to 300 joules. The highest it goes is 360 joules, for the third and any subsequent shocks. Throughout this procedure, there is no danger to the machine's handler.
First Assistant Chief Nick Favata referred to defibrillation as "the CPR of the '90s," referring to how 20 years ago cardiopulmonary resuscitation was first taught to fireman and other rescue personnel as a live-saving technique.
Other equipment now available on every truck includes oxygen, airways and a slew of first aid materials.
Although the department determined a need for them, said Caraturo, fortunately no fireman has had to use the newly acquired defibrillators. But if that day comes, victims will have a better chance at living even when an ambulance is still a few minutes away.