Beginning April 15, the Danville Fire Department will carry portable electrocardiograms in its fire engines. The EKG machines will allow fire personnel when serving as first responders in medical emergencies to immediately analyze patients with cardiac symptoms and send that data from the patient’s side to the hospital.
As a result, patients who are undergoing a heart attack can have their EKGs read and studied by hospital emergency and cardiac teams before arrival to the medical facility, allowing patients to spend less time in the emergency department and in cases go directly to the cardiac catheterization lab.
“These machines allow us to detect early on if a patient is having a myocardial infarction,” said Lt. Tim Duffer, who serves as a training officer. “This (early detection) is important. The more time that elapses, the more heart muscle you are damaging.”
The Fire Department was able to purchase eight EKG machines – one for each fire engine and its ladder truck – thanks to a grant of $166,900 from J.T. - Minnie Maude Charitable Trust. The grant paid for the full cost of the EKGs.
Battalion Chief Michael Jefferson said an EKG will be one of the best pieces of equipment the Fire Department has added to its trucks. “We saw the need and approached the J.T. – Minnie Maude organization,” Jefferson said. “They supported it 100 percent. If it were not for them, we would not have these. I am excited about this project. You will see the results.”
An EKG is a way to measure and diagnose abnormal rhythms of the heart. The machines the Fire Department will use are 12-lead EKGs, which record 12 different electrical signals at approximately the same time. Each lead looks at the heart from a different angle.
Duffer said the EKGs remove the “guessing game.”
“If you are having chest pains, we will hook up a bunch of leads to you similar to when you go to the hospital,” Duffer said. “The monitors will indicate whether you are having a myocardial infarction. We no longer will have to make any assumption based on symptoms. We will have the diagnostics.”
The data will be printed and shared with the transport agency, and it will be sent electronically to the hospital in advance of transport. Each fire truck is equipped with wireless technology for transmission of the data.
Earlier identification of heart attack patients will lead to faster artery-opening treatment in a pre-hospital setting with drugs that enhance blood flow. In addition, by transmitting the EKG report in advance, the hospital can begin developing a treatment plan for patients before they arrive at the hospital.
“This information from the scene will alert the medical staff and allow them to get ready before the patient arrives,” Duffer said. “In the past, patients had to undergo a series of tests once they arrived at the hospital.”
Training on the EKGs began earlier this month. The EKGs will replace the automated external defibrillators currently carried on the fire engines. The AEDs, however, will be placed on other fire department vehicles and continue in use.