By Audrey Fraizer
Considering the estimated 344,700 people in the U.S. that each year suffer from a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at their homes, and the 8% who actually survive, Cumberland County (Pa.) Department of Public Safety is doing a great job of improving the statistics.
In July, with only three days between incidents, Dispatchers Eric Harne and Jimmy Brandt gave Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) to callers, which resulted in the resuscitation of two patients in cardiac arrest.
On July 23, Harne took a 9-1-1 call reporting a 50-year-old in cardiac arrest. His story follows. Four days later, on July 27, Brandt took a 9-1-1 call reporting a 19-year-old female in cardiac arrest. That story is published on the previous page.
On Aug. 8, both received Life-Saver Awards from the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners.
Staff Development Manager Gary S. Dressler was deservedly proud of Harne and Brandt, although he’s quick to point out that the same goes for everyone at the center.
“They all do a great job,” he said. “It all goes to show the power of EMD and the PAIs.”
During the early morning hours of July 23, Harne took the call from a woman who reported her husband might be having a seizure. Because of sounds in the background, Harne thought otherwise.
“I could hear agonal breathing in the background,” he said. “He was in cardiac arrest.”
Harne started CPR PAIs, drawing the caller into a focused response that lowered her audible anxiety. Her husband’s pulse had returned by the time EMTs arrived on scene, and he had regained consciousness and was speaking prior to the ambulance reaching the hospital.
The credit, Harne said, goes to the caller.
“She was the one doing the heavy lifting,” he said. “We’re advice and counsel.”
Harne said a Zen-like quality often develops from instructions relayed in a calming voice to a bystander providing repetitive CPR compressions. The ability to focus on the moment, he said, tends to ease the stress and worry accompanying the caller’s natural reaction to a medical emergency.
“They’re looking to you for help and you have to remain calm for them,” Harne said. “You don’t want them worrying about what might happen tomorrow. There’s only right now.”
Since MPDS was in place when Harne started at the center 15 years ago, he knows no other way to answer callers and dispatch response. But he also said it takes more than the one person answering the phone.
“We have a team,” he said. “You’re always happy to be the person who answers when everything works out, but it’s never only that one person.”
Harne and Brandt come from non-medical backgrounds. Harne had been in private industry looking for a change. Brandt was a mechanic at a paper company and a volunteer at the local fire department; he had been interested in emergency response since he was a kid.
Both said they find the 9-1-1 profession satisfying, although it’s not the type of job for everyone.
“You have to figure out if you’re made of that kind of material, and the only way to find out is by trying,” Harne said. “Some people come in and find it’s not for them. Dispatch is a high-stress job, and you have to accept that. You can’t take the stress home.”