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Lifesaving Mobile App Spreads to Silicon Valley

Return to the February 15, 2012 issue of On Scene

IAFC On Scene: February 15, 2012



The PulsePoint app has received several international awards:

  • The IAFC’s 2011 Fire Service Award for Excellence
  • Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association 2011 VITA Wireless Samaritan Award
  • 2011 Computerworld Honors Program Laureate Award for Innovation
  • American Heart Association Life Saver Heart Partner Award
  • IADAS Webby Official Honoree award for the Best Use of GPS or Location Technology

Imagine you’re in a restaurant having lunch with a few friends. You hear a siren in the distance and think to yourself, “I wonder where they’re going?” The siren gets louder and closer, and then you see a fire engine approaching in the distance.

Suddenly, surprisingly, the engine turns into the parking lot and parks right in front of the crowded restaurant where you’re eating. That’s when you learn that right next door, someone is unconscious after suffering a cardiac arrest. If you only knew, maybe you could have made a difference.

Something very similar happen to Richard Price, San Ramon’s fire chief—on duty, in uniform, with a defibrillator in his car; he was at lunch with his IT staff, one of them a paramedic. They were unaware of this emergency until that engine arrived.

This scenario will likely be a thing of the past if a mobile application created by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District gains widespread adoption.

The fire service was at the forefront of the initial CPR trials in Baltimore in 1956, and today the fire service is again advancing the reach of this life-saving technique. In late January 2011, the Fire District launched an innovative new location-aware mobile application that empowers everyday citizens to provide life-saving assistance to victims of sudden cardiac arrest: the PulsePoint app (formally called “Fire Department”).

Now, a little over a year after the initial launch, PulsePoint is helping to save lives in the technology capitol of the world, Silicon Valley. The San Jose Fire Department is the first agency outside the San Ramon Valley to deploy the app in their community.

“The first few minutes after a sudden cardiac arrest are critical for saving lives, and this app will help citizens provide immediate assistance,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. “Technology can help us build a safer, stronger and healthier community, and our partnership with El Camino Hospital to bring PulsePoint to San Jose is a wonderful example of this commitment at no cost to us.”

Sudden cardiac arrest causes nearly 1,000 deaths a day in the United States. When someone has a cardiac arrest, the laws of nature—simple biology—give them only about 10 minutes to live. After that, there’s very little chance of survival. But CPR stops the clock and buys time to allow paramedics to arrive and provide advanced care.

App users who have indicated they’re trained in CPR can be notified if someone nearby is having a cardiac emergency and may require CPR. The app uses sophisticated location-based services to alert citizens in a public place of the need for CPR. The application also directs citizen rescuers to the exact location of the nearest publicly available AED.

“We’re making it very easy to empower citizens of San Jose to help with CPR when every second counts,” said San Jose Fire Chief William McDonald. “Timing is crucial for saving a life during cardiac arrest, and a notification to someone close by who can perform CPR can make all the difference."

The PulsePoint app also provides users, within covered communities, a virtual window into 911 emergency communication centers, giving users of mobile devices real-time access to emergency activity as it’s occurring. Users can view active incidents, including the current response status of dispatched units, and can instantly pinpoint incident location on an interactive map. Users also can choose to be notified of incidents by type when they’re dispatched and monitor emergency radio traffic via this modern version of the traditional fire scanner.

To a large degree, successful citizen CPR has required chance to bring those trained and those in need together while the clock is winding down. We’re now replacing much of that fate with modern, innovative technology.

The application is currently available to anyone free of charge; however, the CPR notification functionality is only available in the San Ramon Valley and San Jose service areas. To try the application yourself, search “PulsePoint” in the Apple App Store and in the Android Market.

San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District has formed an independent and external foundation to expand the reach of the application. The PulsePoint Foundation is now working with more than 200 emergency service agencies around the world to implement this lifesaving technology in their jurisdictions. If you’d like to learn more about bringing the PulsePoint app to your jurisdiction, visit www.PulsePoint.org.

Kim French is the information officer for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.


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