Editorials

This app could literally save your life, but your fire department may not have it

San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson shows off the PulsePoint app that alerts volunteers trained in CPR when someone nearby has suffered a cardiac arrest. The city is the only agency in SLO County participating in the lifesaving program.
San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson shows off the PulsePoint app that alerts volunteers trained in CPR when someone nearby has suffered a cardiac arrest. The city is the only agency in SLO County participating in the lifesaving program. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Is a life worth $8,000 per year?

Of course!

So we're having a hard time figuring out why every local fire department hasn't already enrolled in PulsePoint, a mobile app that "matches" people who go into cardiac arrest in public places — such as stores, restaurants and offices — with volunteer "citizen responders" who have been trained in CPR.

We saw how efficiently the program works last week when a woman at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo went into cardiac arrest. Two men — a lifeguard from Santa Barbara County and SLO Fire Chief Garret Olson — happened to be having dinner nearby, and both responded. They arrived at the same time as the Fire Department, so in this case, firefighters were able to revive the woman.

But that doesn't always happen; sometimes PulsePoint volunteers arrive on scene before the first responders and are able to start CPR early on, increasing the chance for survival. (Go to PulsePoint.org to read success stories.)

It's an elegantly simple solution to a problem: Getting medical help to cardiac patients in time to save their lives.

In participating communities, the PulsePoint system works by "capturing" 911 calls. It then automatically alerts volunteer responders, who also are notified of the location of the nearest automated external defibrillator, or AED.

It costs nothing for responders to sign up, but agencies do pay a startup fee and annual licensing fee.

To put it bluntly, this program could literally save your life — or the life of your mother, your brother or your boss. Surely, that's worth far more than $8,000, right?

So why is the city of San Luis Obispo the only agency in our county to have the program?

It really isn't all that expensive, since fees are on a sliding scale that's based on population. San Luis Obispo paid PulsePoint — a nonprofit organization based in the Bay Area — $18,000 for the initial setup, and $8,000 a year after that. The city pays for the program through the voter-approved half-cent sales tax.

Because the program is generally run through fire dispatch centers rather than police departments, not every individual community has to enroll in PulsePoint. For instance, Five Cities Fire covers the communities of Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach, and Cal Fire handles most of the unincorporated communities and the city of Pismo Beach.

SLO County Fire Chief Scott Jalbert said his department is looking to enroll in PulsePoint next year; he estimated the initial cost at $30,000. The program isn't in the budget right now — but the Board of Supervisors could change that by making it an immediate priority.

"Then, yes, we would head down that road," Jalbert told us.

So how about it, Board of Supervisors? And what about you, Paso Robles, Atascadero and Five Cities Fire Authority?

If it's money that's holding you back — and that's understandable — there are alternatives. Often, hospitals are willing to underwrite the cost, according to Shannon Smith, a spokeswoman for PulsePoint.

"They don't want DOAs," she said.

Exactly. Nobody does.

Many surrounding communities — including Guadalupe, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara — as well as major metro areas like Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento already are on PulsePoint. Altogether, nearly three-quarters of California is covered, Smith said.

So again, what are we waiting for? This is an opportunity to actually save lives. We can think of nothing more significant.

We strongly urge every elected official in every community of San Luis Obispo County to make enrollment in PulsePoint a priority — STAT.

  Comments