ASPEN - Around 180 full-time workers for the city of Aspen recently received training in the use of automated external defibrillators, commonly known as AEDs. They are the machines that send electrical impulses to jump-start a heart back into a regular beat in the event of a cardiac arrest.
Jim Richardson, director of the Aspen Ambulance District, said the city workers were trained under the Save a Life/Pitkin County program, a community-wide initiative of local governments, the ambulance district, Aspen Valley Hospital, the Aspen Community Foundation and Aspen Skiing Co. The district is coordinating and overseeing the training.
The program was created less than two years ago following a few high-profile cases of lives saved because of the machines. It recently took an inventory of all AEDs in the Roaring Fork Valley - there are 200 between Carbondale and Aspen - and restored equipment that had been rendered nonfunctional due to neglect. It also aims to provide AED and CPR training to public- and private-sector workers throughout the area.
Richardson said that now that the city workers have been trained, Pitkin County government workers are next on the list, with instruction likely beginning in January. Many hospital workers already know how to use an AED, but those who haven't will likely receive instruction in February, he said.
"That's the plan," Richardson said. "It's an ongoing effort, and everyone has really partnered together."
He said each training session takes about 30 minutes.
"It's fairly short," he said. "We play the video that talks about the survivors' stories that's available on our website. We do hands-on CPR awareness training and AED training. It's very simple, and it doesn't take very long to learn."
The AEDs have a voice feature that tells the user what to do, Richardson said.
"When the heart goes into cardiac arrest, you can't save them with just CPR or just defibrillation," he said. "They need to have both. They need the defibrillation to shock the heart out of the chaotic rhythm, and they need the CPR to circulate the oxygenated blood. You need both components at the same time for a successful outcome."
The national average for surviving a cardiac arrest is 8 percent, while the average in Pitkin County over the past two years is more than 50 percent, Richardson said.
"Why? Because of the number of people willing to do CPR, the availability of AEDs and the fact that we in general have a much healthier population that is dropping from cardiac arrest. So we have healthy people to start with, and it makes their outcome much more successful," he said.
Courtney DeVito, a risk analyst in the city's Human Resources Department, said the training program is informal and does not provide an official certification.
"It's more about awareness," she said. "We are looking at doing a formal CPR certifications for certain departments."
Thursday's training session at the Water Department was the last one for city workers over the past six weeks. In the future, new employees and existing workers who didn't get the training will receive instruction, DeVito said.
"We had a lot of great information that came out of each session," DeVito said. "There were folks who didn't know where AEDs were located, and now they do in almost every city area. People got all of the information they needed to feel comfortable using them should a situation arise where they needed to do that."