Posted on 03/29/2011

"Ordinary people" performing CPR helped the Fredericksburg Fire Department save three lives in three days, officials said.

At a fire station in downtown Fredericksburg, Va., the trucks roll on about 10 calls per day, and most calls are fairly routine. Months could go by without an opportunity for what they call a “save” -- reviving a patient on the edge of death -- so last week’s three saves were unusual.

“Three in three days, I haven’t seen that in 20 years,” Sgt. Jay Skinner said.

On March 19 at the Amtrak station, an elderly woman collapsed on the train, and passengers started CPR. Amtrak personnel and bystanders also hooked up the automated external defibrillator (AED) to the victim, though a shock wasn’t needed. An IV and drugs produced a pulse.

On March 20, a woman in her 60s went into respiratory distress at a downtown restaurant. A 911 dispatcher gave the bystanders CPR instructions. When firefighter Mike Athenry arrived, he took over.

“We attached our AED to the patient,” he said. “The AED allowed us to shock the victim. One shock was delivered. We started CPR again. The AED told us no shock was needed. We checked for a pulse. We had one.”

Then on March 21, a patient at a dentist's office went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Rescue crews found the doctor and his staff had already started CPR and attached the AED, which advised two shocks. The second revived the woman.

“The community definitely played a part,” said Patricia Derr, of the Fredericksburg Fire Department. “Bystander CPR is very important. The quicker that they start having someone do compressions on them, the better their chances of survival.”

Such saves are becoming more common because CPR guidelines have changed for civilians, Skinner said. With rapid chest compressions the simpler standard now, more are willing to try CPR.

“It’s amazing,” Skinner said. “It really is. To see them from the brink of death to actually having a pulse and breathing again, I mean, that’s what makes this job worth having.”