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CKFR buys life-saving, cutting-edge technology

Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue paramedics have a new tool to diagnose patients suffering from chest pains or heart attacks.

On Monday, Jan. 21, paramedics were authorized to use five 12-lead electrocardiograph machines on CKFR’s primary medic and aid units.

“These take us to a whole new level,” said paramedic/firefighter Charlie Blattner, who spent months evaluating machines before settling on the LifePak 12 built by Metronic Physio-Control of Redmond. Each unit cost the district $34,000.

“From our tests, this unit best met our needs because of its user-friendliness, the available training program and the level of immediate maintenance service,” Blattner said.

The new units will help clarify what a patient’s heart is doing, even if the victim doesn’t complain of heart attack symptoms.

“Thirty-three percent of people having a heart attack are atypical,” Blattner said. “Having a 12-lead ECG helps identify that.”

Previously, paramedics had older three-lead ECGs, which gave a picture of the front portion of a person’s heart using three wires. The 12-lead machine gives a 360-degree view of the heart, with a single eight-inch plastic monitoring strip placed directly over the patient’s heart. Paramedics can monitor the heart by watching the built-in digital monitor or by print-out strips.

“This allows for more information for us to make better decisions for our patients,” Blattner said.

Paramedics now have three methods to determine what kind of care a patient receives: the patient’s history, blood analysis and the 12-lead ECG.

The machines’ other features include hands-free defibrillation, blood pressure and carbon dioxide levels monitoring, and a built-in fax, which allows paramedics to send data directly to the hospital via telephone or cell phone.

“There’s so many neat things these machines can do,” said CKFR Battalion Chief Gary Eddings, director of the district’s medical services. “It’s a wonderful adjunct we haven’t had the advantage of in CKFR.”

The technology behind the 12-lead system has been available for many years at area hospitals. Besides CKFR, similar equipment is currently in use with the Poulsbo Fire Department and Kitsap County Fire District 7 in South Kitsap. Fire officials in Bremerton and North Kitsap plan on purchasing them later this year.

According to Eddings, the district planned to purchase the machines in its 2003 budget cycle.

But Eddings said Blattner’s research “was very convincing to our administration that we had the potential to help more people if we started earlier.”

Paramedics soon will be qualified to deliver medications unavailable before the district had 12-lead ECGs.

“These are the kinds of medications you don’t want to give without the 12-lead diagnosis,” Eddings said. “Giving these drugs sooner will cut down on the length of hospital stays and cost to the patients.”

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