Heart-saving tech now in all Petaluma schools

A years-long effort to install life-saving cardiac arrest treatment devices on the grounds of every Petaluma school wrapped up on Wednesday, a major milestone as various groups work to support the proliferation of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, throughout the city.

Acting as part of a countywide initiative called Save Lives Sonoma, Petaluma Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Schach and staff from the Petaluma Health Care District installed the device on the grounds of Cinnabar Charter & Elementary School on Wednesday. School employees received training in both AED usage and hands-free CPR, which combined can play an important role before the arrival of paramedics.

Health Care District CEO Ramona Faith lauded the milestone, noting that children, like adults, are at risk of cardiac arrest from causes that include undiagnosed birth defects.

“Cardiac emergencies can happen anywhere, at any age,” she said.

The device at Cinnabar is the 23rd school-based AED donated through Save Lives Sonoma in Petaluma, part of an initiative to place at least one AED at every school in the county, said Schach. The small device automatically delivers an electric current in an attempt to restore regular rhythm in a struggling heart, a mechanism the American Red Cross estimates could save 50,000 lives every year if widely available.

Launched in 2009, Save Lives Sonoma also purchased a set of mannequins for CPR training purposes, which has supported the training of hundreds of people in Petaluma, many of them in the seventh grade. The effort resulted in at least one intervention last year in which Emmy Stephens-Jackson, a student at Petaluma High School, guided her older sister Koko Stephens-Jackson in performing the “hands only” chest compression technique on their mother, Tena Jackson.

Staff and students at Petaluma’s largest district, Petaluma City Schools, have enthusiastically embraced both the AED and the CPR training programs, said Gary Callahan, superintendent. Efforts are underway to determine how to make CPR instruction a regular part of the district’s curriculum.

“For us, it provides peace of mind,” he said of the AEDs now in place throughout the district.

Organized efforts to place AEDs around Petaluma began as early as 2007, when the nonprofit Cruisin’ the Boulevard, the organization behind the annual classic car-infused celebration of the film American Graffiti, began funneling its revenue toward acquiring and donating the devices.

The initiative helped kickstart the proliferation of AEDs throughout the city, resulting in donations to the city’s larger schools, City Hall, police patrol cars, some periphery fire department vehicles and elsewhere, Schach said.

“We’re really continuing a legacy that this group started,” he said.

In addition to the donations from Save Lives Sonoma, Cruisin’ the Boulevard has donated around 70 AEDs since 2008, said John Furrer, founding board member.

“Our thing is - if you need them, they are there. But hopefully you never will,” Furrer said.

With the devices increasingly affordable, now costing around $1,500, Faith urged new owners to be vigilant that their AEDs were up-to-date. While city schools are among those larger organizations with an established maintenance plan supported by the district, little accountability exists to ensure every device in the city is in working order.

“More and more people are understanding the need to deploy AEDs in a community, and they also need to know the importance of maintaining them,” she said.

(Contact Eric Gneckow at On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)

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