Marin County activates PulsePoint service, an app that saves lives

Marin County has joined the PulsePoint movement. 

It's a smartphone app that allows residents to see and hear emergency dispatches as they happen, and potentially save a stranger with CPR or an automated external defibrillator, or AED. 

Launched about ten years ago, PulsePoint is already available in several Bay Area counties, including Sonoma, Alameda, Napa and Contra Costa. 

Marin activated it on Valentine's Day, due to its unique value during a report of a heart attack.  

"I don't remember it hitting me but I was not having a great training day," said Al Hart of Fairfax, recalling his own cardiac arrest. 

He and wife Trish are triathletes, and Hart was in the middle of a run when he was stricken, unaware he had major blockages in his coronary arteries.

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"My body was trying to tell me something and I finally just collapsed," he recalled. 

That was on a Pleasanton roadside, and a couple driving by pulled over to help. 

"Gosh it still gives me chills just thinking about it," recalled Juliana Schirmer of Livermore, who was on her way to the Alameda County Fair with husband Bill.

They saw immediately that Al was in bad shape, not breathing and no pulse. 

"My husband was doing the chest compressions and I was speaking to the 9-1-1 operator who said we need an AED," said Schirmer. 

Fortunately, staff in the Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area were able to rush a defibrillator to the scene because they had PulsePoint on their phones.

"Two young lifeguards that were just on a break, had their phone with them and it triggered the alert so they came," said Al. 

The combined efforts of CPR, and shocks to the heart, kept Al from dying before paramedics arrived to perform advanced life support.

Before that day, the Harts didn't know what PulsePoint was. 

"Never heard of it before, because we didn't have it in Marin, and so it's not quite everywhere yet," said Trish. 

As of Friday, Marin's first responders made the app locally available. 

"You can opt in to get structure fires, vegetation fires, traffic collisions, whatever you want to be notified of," explained Battalion Chief Bret McTigue of the Marin County Fire Department. 

The county absorbed the costs of incorporating PulsePoint into the 9-1-1 system. 

The app is free for users. 

It offers the public real-time emergency dispatch information in their communities, and connects those who need help with those who can offer it. 

In cardiac emergencies, each minute without care reduces the survival rate about 10%. 

"This just brings the community first responder faster to the scene," said McTigue.

"Basically instead of a few fire stations in a community, we have hundreds or thousands of community trained personnel."  

PulsePoint has nearly 2 million users nationwide. 

"Anybody can help, anybody can be ready to assist somebody else," said Schirmer, noting that CPR is much simpler now that there is no breathing involved, just chest pumps.  

"Just knowing that we had the skills and were at the right place at the right time, your instinct takes over and you do what you need to do."

Ever since Al's near-death, the Schirmers and Harts are close friends, meeting every few months for a hike and lunch. 

"You always hear, oh you have guardian angels, and that day I was blessed, I had several around me," said Al, also praising two brothers, both firefighter cadets, who stopped and assisted with CPR. 

Al spent eight days in the hospital, but made a full recovery and resumed his fitness training. 

He also has a new passion: sharing the importance of cardiac care, learning CPR, and PulsePoint. 

"There's a reason it happened to me, and I really do believe the reason is for me to get out there and spread the word."

Non-profit PulsePoint was created by Richard Price, who was the chief of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District at the time. 

He got the idea after hearing sirens and seeing an ambulance arrive at a building near him.

Someone had suffered a cardiac arrest, and although Price had the training and AED, he wished he'd known sooner so he could have jumped in to help. 

PulsePoint only alerts people to emergencies in public places, not private property. 

For CPR, it will notify responders within a half mile of the person in distress.