CPR, AEDs help safeguard passengers

Jeff Willer, transportation coordinator for the North Dakota Farmers Union, knows all too well what it's like for one of his motor-coach passengers to need CPR. It's happened to him twice. The first time was a man in his 50s suffering a heart attack back in the days when cell phones were few and far between. Luckily, an EMT was aboard, and the man survived. Willer quickly mandated that from then on, every coach have a cell phone. The second time Willer had to perform CPR was for a passenger who suffered from a medical condition. "A young woman had fainted, and all of a sudden her heart quit," says Willer. "Fortunately we brought her right back." That's when Willer got serious about shopping for automatic external defibrillators, commonly known as AEDs, to bring aboard. The NDFU ended up buying three, and they're going on their fifth year with the equipment.

"We also have them in our building and at our youth campsite, and our drivers are all trained on it," says Willer. "It's an investment, but you can't put a price on a human life."

Operators all over are increasingly opting for AEDs and CPR training for their front-line employees. And it's not just because coach passengers are often in the age ranges most associated with strokes and heart attacks. Choking, illegal drug use, trauma and electrocution can all cause a heart to stop beating.

Going the distance for safety

John Hall's Alaska, which specializes in tours to the 49th state, says it was one of the first to bring AEDs aboard. Owner and CEO John Hall, Sr. was prompted by the vast distances between hospitals and medical providers in Alaska — and by questions from his customers, whose average age is between 62 and 64. "We used to get a lot of questions when people would do Alaska trips about how far medical care was. The AEDs give us and our passengers peace of mind."

Like Willer, Hall says his company is fortunate so far to not have had an emergency that called for them to put their AEDs to the test.

When Willer and Hall bought their units, most AEDs cost in the neighborhood of $3,000 apiece — not a small sum. Like Willer, Hall says the investment is worth it. Says Hall, "It's nothing compared to a human life."

Today, many AEDs are closer to $1,000, putting them within reach of virtually every operation. Statistics, which state that cardiac-arrest survival chances diminish ten percent for every minute without defibrillation, suggest that prompt and proper use of an AED can save up to 74 percent of victims of sudden cardiac arrest. Both Hall and Willer took advantage of American Red Cross training programs to help them and their staffs learn how to use their AEDs. The American Heart Association and local fire departments can be good sources of training as well.

Low tech tips

Of course, keeping passengers safe isn't just about high-tech equipment and training. John Hall's keeps a variety of first-aid items on his coaches, including masks that can help deter the spread of germs or protect passengers if the coach passes through an area made smoky by wildfires.

Hall also asks his customers to fill out health-history forms before traveling with the company. That way, he says, if someone gets sick, Hall can make sure the doctor or hospital gets the information.

Belting it out

Not all medical emergencies are primary medical events. In many ways, keeping passengers safe starts with the coach itself. MCI's models for 2010 all have safety features like electronic stability control, traction control, fire-suppression equipment and, as an option, three-point seatbelts. They won't prevent choking or a heart attack, but they will help drivers keep coaches on the road and passengers in their seats.

Safety videos

One of the easiest and most important things a company can do is simply make sure passengers are informed on how to act during an emergency, be it medical or vehicular. MCI offers its customers a video modeled on the familiar airplane pre-flight instructions. It helps familiarize customers with the locations of emergency exits and equipment

Says Willer,"Our cargo is irreplaceable. Safety should always be at the top of the list."

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