Havelock police officers are almost always the first on the scene to emergency calls in the city, and about a third of those calls involve possible heart attacks.
Those heart attack patients will soon have a greater chance of survival with the addition of eight automatic external defibrillators that will be place in Havelock police cars.
"If you’re going to have a heart attack, Havelock is the place to do it," said Steve Coffey, chief of operations for the Havelock Fire and Rescue Department.
The eight defibrillators are part of a $140,000 project, with the money coming from state 911 funds.
Havelock had already placed defibrillators in the Havelock Tourist and Event Center, the Havelock Senior Center and the Havelock Recreation Center. Defibrillators are also included in all of its four ambulances.
Coffey said adding the life-saving equipment to police cars will improve the chances a heart attack victim will survive. He said the quicker a victim’s heart can be jump-started with an electric shock from a defibrillator, the more oxygen can be pumped to vital organs.
"Every minute increases you chance of survival by 10 percent," Coffey said.
Inside the city limits, the city ambulance and paramedics will arrive in four minutes or less, but usually a police officer gets there quicker, perhaps as soon as a minute or two from the time the call comes in, Coffey said.
To use the machine, police officers put two pallets on the victim’s chest and turn the machine on. The defibrillator automatically senses what is happening with the victim’s heart and determines if a shock is necessary and when to apply it to achieve a normal rhythm.
"It’s not going to shock someone who has a pulse," Coffey said.
Havelock police officers are now wrapping up training on the devices and they will be deployed in the coming weeks, Coffey said.
"Our plan is to be able to provide rapid defibrillation to the cardiac arrest victim as soon as possible," he said. "Utilizing our dispatch center, the patrol officer or sergeant will be dispatched the same time as one of the paramedic units. Since the patrol officers are already on the road, they will most likely be on the scene a minute or two prior to the medics’ arrival."
Wayne Lee, a Havelock firefighter and paramedic, sees the benefits of having the devices in the police cars.
"It will help speed the process up for these people and help them have more survivability," he said. "When they get there, they can already initiate basic life support, which is CPR and early defibrillation if needed, and the machine will tell them that. All of the police officers are trained to do basic life support just like we are and they know how to use an AED, so they can get out there and do that."
Coffey said that heart attack victims who are not resuscitated quickly could have damage to vital organs, such as the brain, from a lack of oxygen. With that in mind, he said those who see someone having a heart attack and not breathing should take steps right away, including CPR.
"Hands-on CPR, all they have to do is circulate the blood and we’ll do the rest," Coffey said.
Coffey said that only about one of 20 cardiac patients have been given CPR by friends or relatives prior to the arrival of emergency crews, which he said is a real shortfall. Some of the members of his staff have recently been to instructor training so that they can soon begin classes in CPR for local residents, he said.
Another key part of survival from a heart arrest is to call for help as soon as symptoms are detected.
"The main symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, a crushing pain in the center of the chest," Lee said. "You could have pain that moves from your left arm down to your jaw. You may see profuse sweating when it’s cool outside or cool in the house."
Coffey said anyone age 35 and older experiencing tightness in the chest, pain in the shoulders and other symptoms should call 911.