'Perfect' automated CPR saves lives, Elgin and South Elgin firefighters say

The Elgin and South Elgin fire agencies have equipped ambulances with automated CPR devices, and they're saving lives, officials said.

Resuscitation success rates for the Elgin Fire Department nearly doubled in months when firefighters used the devices, data show. The department tested two different brands from February 2017 through May 2017 and equipped all its ambulances in October.

"High-quality CPR saves lives," Lt. Chris Kennedy said.

The results in South Elgin also were impressive, firefighter/paramedic Shannon Harms said. The South Elgin and Countryside Fire Protection District tracked data for about a year as it tested five brands, she said.

"They are a life-changing device," Harms said.

Not only are paramedics "obtaining a return of spontaneous circulation," she said, but also patients "are walking out of the hospital as opposed to ending up in the intensive care unit, and pulling the plug."

Elgin and South Elgin bought "Lucas 3" chest compression systems at about $15,000 each. There are other brands on the market, such as Zoll.

Manual CPR can be tiring and imperfect, but Lucas devices give perfect CPR with 2-inch depth and 102 compressions per minute, Kennedy said. The machine consists of a small "cage" placed around the patient's torso with a suction cup that mechanically pumps up and down on the chest.

"Generally our guys do great CPR, but you can see sometimes it's too shallow or it's too deep," Kennedy said. "Once the Lucas device gets put in, CPR is perfect."

Elgin data show that from January 2017 to January 2018, firefighters responded to 76 calls involving "code," or cardiopulmonary arrest, and were able to prompt a return of spontaneous circulation in 30 cases.

In months when the devices were not in use, firefighters had a 24 percent success rate on average. With the devices, that jumped to 47 percent.

The devices are especially helpful during patient transport, Harms said. "We're not able to compress them well when we are moving them or bouncing down the road," she said. "With the Lucas it doesn't matter. It keeps pumping away."

Automated CPR devices do improve patients' survival rate, said Claus Johnsen, state coordinator for the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, which tracks resuscitation and hospital survival data from agencies across the country. The group gets self-reported data for automated vs. manual CPR but doesn't aggregate it nationally, he said.

Even though the devices are becoming more widespread, cost can be a factor, especially for smaller agencies, Johnsen said.

The Elgin Fire Department's purchase was helped by a $72,000 assistance-to-firefighters grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Capt. Michael Oine said. Officials credited firefighter Anthony McMeel with pushing to acquire the devices after he attended an EMS conference.

The South Elgin fire district paid out of pocket for the purchase, Burns said. Firefighters chose to contribute some money from a fund that usually pays for fire station items such as TVs, beds and recliners, she said.

  The Elgin Fire Department has been using automated CPR devices full time since October, driving up their successful resuscitations after 911 calls. Rick West/
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