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Williamstown, Mass. Named ‘HeartSafe’ Community

WILLIAMSTOWN - Thanks to training undergone by emergency personnel and the equipping of all police cruisers and two Fire Department vehicles with defibrillators to jump–start interrupted heartbeats, Williamstown has been designated a HeartSafe Community by the state’'s Department of Public Health.

And now it even has the signs to prove it.

Williamstown is one of 101 of the state’'s 350 municipalities to achieve the designation from the heath department’'s Office of Emergency Services, according to Stephen Cote of the EMS western regional office, who presented the “HeartSafe” signs and a certificate to town officials Tuesday.

Cote said Berkshire County joins Cape Cod and the islands in fulfilling the criteria for the designation. Other HeartSafe communities in Berkshire County include Lee, Lenox, Becket, Florida, Dalton and Pittsfield.

“Berkshire County is at the leading edge,” Cote said. “Training response starts from the citizen level. The town is actually pretty blessed, with every cruiser equipped with an AED. You done good.”

AED stands for automated external defibrillator, the life-saving “shock boxes” that jump–start hearts that have gone into sudden cardiac arrest. The portable electronic devices, which cost about $3,000 apiece, detect abnormal heart rhythms, and, if necessary, allow the user to activate one or more electronic shocks to try to restore a normal heartbeat. According to a department news release, reducing time to defibrillation is critical because for every minute that goes by without defibrillation, the victim’s chance of survival drops by between 7 and 10 percent.

In the release, the department calls the program “tremendous... a proven lifesaver.”

Cities and towns are awarded points, called “heartbeats,” to determine their qualification as HeartSafe Communities. Points are given for numbers of residents with CPR training and number of first responder training equipped with the AED devices.

“By increasing the number of people trained in CPR and increasing public access to defibrillation through strategic placement of automated external defibrillators, we can increase the survival rate for cardiac arrest victims,” said Louie Goyette, director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services. “This is a great way for communities to show their commitment to the health of their friends and neighbors.”

The cost of the devices used in Williamstown, about $30,000, was paid by Mountain One Financial, along with the REACH program of Northern Berkshire Health Systems, according to Police Officer Amalio Jusino, who spearheaded the local program. Jusino, who is completing his EMT training, will conduct courses in using the devices starting this summer.

The state Department of Health and the American Heart Association created the HeartSafe Communities initative, which is aimed at strengthening what the heart association calls the “chain of survival.” The chain has four critical steps: early access to emergency care, early COR, early defibrillation and early advanced care.

According to the American Heart Association’'s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee Chairman, Dr. Steven G. Miller, “A strong chain of survival can increase the survival rate to 20 percent or more, which would save at least 40,000 lives a year.”

Currently an estimated 5 percent of victims of sudden cardiac arrest survive, according to the news release.

Town Manager Peter Fohlin said the HeartSafe certificate will be on view in the front hallway of the municipal building (31 North St.), after it has been presented to the Selectmen. Fohlin said the HeartSafe signs would be placed accordingly, after “giving some thought to where they will be most effective.”

“They’'re not advertising,” he said. “They’'re a safety advisory to the traveling public on what vital services are available should they need them.”

Police Chief Kyle Johnson, who also took part in Tuesday’'s presentation, said, “Everybody’'s a winner.”

Cote quipped, “Tell your Realtors,” noting that the designation can be a selling point for the town.

Jusino said the Fire Department has two defibrillators, in the chief’s vehicle and Engine 1.

Village Ambulance provided all the training for police and firefighters in CPR and AED use, Jusino said.

“That’'s what I’'ll be doing in the future, continuing that training,” he said.

Criteria include placement in all first-responder vehicles, maintaining paramedics at a specified level (which Village Ambulance does), providing classes to the community in AED use, and placing devices in public buildings, Jusino said.

He said the buildings are yet to be determined, but the public library and the municipal building are possibilities because of their use by the public.

“We’'re talking to the town manager and heads of departments now about putting them where the public is,” he said. “It hasn’'t yet been determined.”

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