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New life-saving equipment installed in ambulances

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By Lisa King

Shelby County ambulances are now even better equipped to help save lives, thanks to new, life-saving devices recently installed.

The new equipment consists of two Rad-57 Pulse CO-Oximetry machines, which are capable of detecting carbon monoxide in the bloodstream, according to Steve Wortham, chief of operations for Shelby County Emergency Medical Services. This technology is fairly new, Wortham said, and its potential for saving lives is invaluable.

"This device will allow us to detect carbon monoxide in the bloodstream, and being able to get that knowledge quickly could certainly save lives," he said. "Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that adheres to the body's red blood cells, depleting the body of oxygen. If you breathe enough of it, you will get real tired and sleepy, and you will just lay down and go to sleep, and die."

If a person exhibits symptoms of carbon monoxide, emergency medical personnel can use this device to check a patient for the deadly gas.

"Once we know they've got in it their bloodstream, we can begin treatment immediately," he said. "And that can make the difference between life and death."

Wortham said the devices will not only be beneficial to the public, but also for firefighters.

"We can check them out (firefighters) when they return from a fire, and make sure they don't have carbon monoxide in their systems," he said.

Shelby County Fire Chief Bobby Cowherd is also glad the county now has the new equipment.

"When our guys come out of a burning building, they go to what we call "rehab" where they get checked out to make sure they're OK. Using these machines, we can make sure they haven't got carbon monoxide in their bloodstream. It's a really good thing, the county getting these."

Wortham bought the two machines for $4,000 each using funding from an annual Senate Bill 66 Grant which is distributed to EMS departments to help them purchase equipment or pay to train personnel.

Wortham said he will use the remaining money from the $10,256 grant for training purposes.

At last Tuesday's meeting of the Shelby County Fiscal Court, Wortham told magistrates that, like other counties, his department has been affected by budget cuts. But he has worked to make sure that despite having to make do without certain things, his department has maintained quality ambulance care to the citizens of the county.

"In some counties, such as Jefferson County, budget cuts have affected the response time of EMS," he said. "But our response time is still well below the national average."

Wortham said the national average response time that it takes for an ambulance to arrive at a call is eight minutes.

"Our response time averages six minutes," he said.