Merced County touts PulsePoint app as life-saving tool

You don’t have to wear a first-responder uniform or carry a badge to save a life.

A new smartphone app in Merced County lets residents become everyday heroes by lending a hand in saving the lives of cardiac arrest victims.

The free PulsePoint application teaches people how to administer “hands only” CPR, which officials say takes about five minutes to learn. Then the app alerts users when someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest within half a mile of their location.

It uses GPS technology available on any smartphone to immediately notify users when someone suffers cardiac arrest in a public place. Users can respond to that location and begin CPR until help arrives. “It’s about taking citizens and turning them into rescuers and letting them help us with this process,” said Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Steve Melander. “Now we’re giving people the tool to do something.”

The app is tied into the local 911 dispatch system and receives notification of cardiac arrest calls within the county.

The PULSE program, which stands for Public and Professionals Unified Life Saving Effort, is a collaborative effort between Riggs, the Merced Fire Department, Mercy Medical Center and the Merced Police Department. It was launched at the beginning of the year, Melander said, but outreach efforts are now in full swing.

Melander joined Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin in presenting the new program to county supervisors during a board meeting this week, but that’s just the beginning. “We’re going to be out in the community doing hands-only CPR training over the next year,” Melander said. “We also intend on getting out to high schools and teaching students.”

Believed to be the first in the Central Valley, the program has already gained more than 200 users. Melander said the short-term goal is to reach 1,000 people and eventually several thousand.

The more people who get trained and download the app, he added, the better the chances of survival for cardiac arrest victims.

More than 1,000 people die each day from sudden cardiac arrest. Last year, roughly 150 adults went into cardiac arrest in the city of Merced, and about 300 in the county. Experts say every second counts when it comes to cardiac arrest.

“When someone suffers a cardiac event, time is brain and heart cells. As the body tissue goes, the chances of survival diminishes,” McLaughlin said. “If you’re right across the street, you’ll be able to get there and start CPR before we can get there. What we’re trying to do is replace good luck with education and technology.”

McLaughlin said that with every minute, the chance of survival is diminished by 10 percent and brain damage begins to occur at four to six minutes.

The phone application provides a map to the victim’s location and tells users where they can find an automated external defibrillator, usually in public places such as shopping centers and airports.

District 5 Supervisor Jerry O’Banion, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he would have benefited from this type of technology a few months ago when he suffered heart-related problems.

The supervisor said it’s positive to see Merced County leading the way with innovative technology.

“I think it’s great to see that we’re on an innovative track instead of being one of the last ones to take on an initiative like this,” O’Banion said. “There are a lot of people that would help if they could and if they had a little bit of experience. Being a volunteer firefighter from the past, I will probably look into getting the app.”

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey on Tuesday asked about liabilities associated with giving CPR, particularly if the victim does not survive. Melander said residents would be covered by various Good Samaritan laws.

The app is available for download on any iPhone or Android device by searching for “PulsePoint Foundation.” Free hands-only CPR training is available by calling the Merced Fire Department at (209) 385-6891 or Riggs Ambulance Service at (209) 725-7000.