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The shock that saves lives

Local law enforcement agencies benefit from $10.1 million grant to purchase Automatic External Defibrillators
Reserve Deputy Adam Johnston, Deputy Austin Jiras and Deputy Jerald Stimmel were presented with a Life Saving Award on Wednesday, Feb. 10, for their role in a Jan. 16 medical emergency in Solon. The deputies found an elderly male collapsed and in full cardiac arrest at Sam’s Main Street Market in Solon. The deputies used an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) prior to the arrival of the Solon Fire Department and Johnson County Ambulance Service as part of the effort to save the man’s life.

IOWA CITY– A defibrillator is a device administering an electrical shock to the heart in an attempt to correct a life-threatening chaotic rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, or V-Fib. In this condition, the heart muscle quivers erratically, but does not pump blood. Essentially, without a heartbeat, the person is dead. The defibrillator’s shock literally jolts the heart, stopping it completely for an instant, in the hope natural pacemakers will kick in again in a normal, life-sustaining rhythm restoring heartbeat and breathing.
Fifty years ago, defibrillators were large, bulky and only able to be operated by a physician or a paramedic. In the ensuing decades, defibrillators became smaller, easier to use and accessible to more people through automation. Now, fully automatic defibrillators (Automatic External Defibrillators or AEDs) are standard equipment in many settings, including law enforcement vehicles.
A $10.1 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will provide Iowa’s law enforcement officers with more than 4,000 new AEDs.
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced the Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services (BETS) received the grant on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
“The three-year project aims to equip every law enforcement vehicle in the state with an AED and train law enforcement professionals to deliver the best care prior to the arrival of Emergency Medical Services (EMS),” a press release stated. “Additionally, the project will equip conservation officers and staff at state parks with AEDs.”
“The people of Iowa are grateful for the partnership with the Helmsley Charitable Trust,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. “We know law enforcement officers are often the first on the scene of an accident or on calls to 911 for medical emergencies. This initiative to place defibrillators in every law enforcement vehicle in Iowa will save lives by providing emergency medical interventions in cases where a few seconds can make all the difference.”
Studies conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) demonstrate a dramatically higher survival rate for cardiac patients defibrillated by law enforcement, generally first on the scene especially in rural areas.
“Seconds count during a cardiac arrest,” said Walter Panzirer, a Helmsley trustee. “We know in Iowa first responders often have great distances to cover. This funding will ensure those who get to the scene before EMS arrives give patients a better shot at survival.”
“On behalf of law enforcement officers and first responders across Iowa, I want to thank the Helmsley Charitable Trust for their commitment to saving lives,” said Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens. “When tragedy strikes, officers respond. This donation will put a defibrillator in up to 4,000 patrol cars and will equip officers with the ability to provide immediate and effective lifesaving efforts. There is no doubt lives will be saved and families transformed as a result of this generosity.”
Currently, the North Liberty Police Department (NLPD) has three AEDs deployed for patrol.
“Generally, this is so we have one in each patrol car, as they are on shift,” said Chief Diane Venenga. “Since the vehicles are not protected for the extreme temperatures, we share the AEDs and bring them into the police department at the end of the shift. We have found that the extreme hot and cold temperatures are hard on the battery life. At the beginning of the shift, the officer will grab one for their car.”
Venenga added the NLPD will receive three new AEDs through the grant program.
NLPD officers train every two years, following the guidelines of the AHA, and the department has a certified instructor on staff.
“We have also trained in Narcan administration (used to reverse a narcotic overdose), as well as Stop the Bleed and applying tourniquets,” the chief elaborated.
Officers receive basic first responder-level EMS training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). In 2018, NLPD officers used an AED three times, six times in 2019 and five times in 2020.
“Since we are often the first on scene, these devices have come in handy for North Liberty. We had a record of high successful uses and saves (return of circulation) with five officers: Chuck Tygart, Scott Sammons, Bruce Sexton, Ames Helzer and Sergeant Chris Shine receiving Life Saving Awards from three separate cardiac emergencies (patient unresponsive and lifeless).”
In these situations, Venenga said, the AED and Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) were used in a cardiac arrest situation. “They got a pulse back and the patients were transported to the hospital, recovered, and made it back home.”
Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel said every patrol deputy has an AED assigned to his or her squad car. In addition, an AED and a crash cart containing medications and equipment for a cardiac emergency are staged in the jail.
“All of our deputies are CPR certified, which coincidentally we just finished the recertification process, and we have deputies who are trained CPR instructors. Deputies are also issued Narcan and trained on how to properly administer it.”
According to Sheriff Kunkel, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) will be participating in the program in hopes of receiving up to 40 new Lifepak CR2 AEDs.
“Law enforcement are often the first emergency responders to arrive at a medical emergency, and seconds count, especially during a cardiac emergency or cardiac arrest,” Kunkel said.
An incident in Solon on Jan. 16 is a prime example. At approximately 5:10 p.m. Deputy Jerald Stimmel, Deputy Austin Jiras and Reserve Deputy Adam Johnston responded to Sam’s Main Street Market for an unknown medical emergency. The men found an elderly male collapsed on the floor and a quick assessment revealed he was in cardiac arrest, suffering a serious head injury from the fall to the floor. Deputies initiated CPR and used an AED to deliver multiple shocks to the victim before the arrival of the Solon fire department. Solon firefighters and the deputies continued treating the man until Johnson County Ambulance Service arrived with Advanced Life Support equipment.
Stimmel, Jiras and Johnston were presented with Life Saving Awards for their actions on Feb. 10, and a press release noted: “Deputy Stimmel, Deputy Jiras and Reserve Deputy Johnston’s recognition of the severity of the medical emergency and their immediate response resulted in saving the life of this person. Any delay in the actions of the deputies would have led to a much more tragic outcome. The professionalism and effective teamwork demonstrated by these deputies on this day brings great credit upon themselves and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.”
“We’re fortunate to have AEDs issued to our deputies so that we can help play a key role in saving lives and serving our community,” Kunkel said.
Chief Venenga also commented, “When seconds count, we want our officers trained, have the equipment readily available, and have officers comfortable in relying on their training and trusting their equipment.”