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  • David A.F. Sweet

Lake Forest Fire Department Finds Tremendous Success in Cardiac-Arrest Saves

By David A. F. Sweet Millions of television viewers, along with dozens of NFL players standing nearby, were stunned when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during a recent Monday Night Football game. Thanks to a quick response, he progressed from having no heartbeat on the field to being in critical condition in a hospital to being at home about a week later. That successful outcome is rare. Across the nation, the save rate from cardiac arrest over the past six months has been 5 percent. But the Lake Forest Fire Department (LFFD) stands apart; in the past six months, its save rate is 55 percent – 11 times higher than the national average. These saves happened on calls where the patient was in full cardiac arrest and considered deceased.

At a meeting on Jan. 17, the Lake Forest City Council honored the rescue efforts of first responders.

“I genuinely believe we have seen more success because we have people on our department who take pride in what we do and work hard every shift to be prepared to make a difference,” said LFFD Battalion Chief Andy Rick, who also cited the importance of education and training through the department’s emergency-medical-services system and its partnership with Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Rick said the saves had common attributes to give patients a better chance to survive. In each case, there were people nearby who began CPR and utilized an automated external defibrillator when appropriate. Then, the 911 team responded quickly, providing coaching to bystanders and reassurance to family members. Finally, the Lake Forest Police Department often arrived first and performed CPR until LFFD appeared. “Without each of those other components, a patient is much less likely to survive in the most critical of situations,” Rick said. “During a full arrest, every minute counts.” Rick also praised the team’s equipment, especially the Zoll X-Series Advanced Cardiac Monitor. It defibrillates and paces poor heart rhythms, provides real-time CPR feedback and assists in tracking medication administration during calls.

Aside from the Zoll, other improvements in technology during the last few years have buoyed the ability to save lives. Cardiac monitors now provide LFFD with the same vital information accessible in emergency rooms. “We can more accurately diagnose and treat poor heart rhythms at a patient’s bedside,” Rick said. “We can diagnose and begin to treat sepsis within minutes of patient contact.”

Rick said some of the most significant changes recently involve the data collection after calls. It allows the department to apply trends and data-driven results into its education. At a meeting on Jan. 17, the Lake Forest City Council honored the rescue efforts of first responders from the Lake Forest Police Department, Lake Forest Fire Department and Glenview Dispatch Center, along with the Chicago Bears staff. Rick spoke at the meeting, and he is proud of what everyone has been able to accomplish over the past six months. “We have been fortunate to encounter scenarios with reversible outcomes and make a real impact on the future of our patients’ lives,” Rick said.

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