Health & Fitness / Life-long learning


Photo Compliments of North Dakota National Guard

Photo Compliments of North Dakota National Guard


Around a quarter of a million people actually die from sudden cardiac arrest in the United States, and four out of five cardiac arrests happen at home; experts say the life you save with CPR is mostly likely to be someone you love.  To be clear, we’re talking about conditions in which the heart stops beating and requires a shock to get restarted. We’re not talking about heart attacks, in which the heart is still beating and people are (usually) in a world of pain due to a blocked blood vessel. Studies show if somebody gets compressions (CPR) within the first minute, they actually have survival rates as high as 80 percent. That’s why doctors say everyone needs to do be able to perform CPR (those doctors are saying you).

Good News

If you have a heart attack in the Seattle area, your survival rate is greater than anywhere, and it just got a whole lot better.  The survival rate for a common form of heart arrest, ventricular fibrillation, where the heart stops beating is now up to 56 percent in our region.  These are recently released numbers and they represent an increase for the third year in a row; the highest reported survival rate in the world.

Bad News

The Seattle-King County numbers compare to survival rates of between 2 and 25 percent nationally.  Your chances of survival anywhere in Texas and Mississippi, as well as other states are not real good.

How Does This Work

The key to the success in saving heart-attack victims in King County is what’s known as “layered response” – every firefighter is trained as an emergency medical technician.  Because fire stations are spread throughout both cities, firefighters can respond faster than paramedics, who have more-advanced medical training, but are spread more thinly spread.  Another crucial element is in training and equipping fire units with automatic defibrillators, which allow firefighters to use electric shock in resuscitation attempts.  Nationally, only 10 to 15 percent of fire companies are equipped with the defibrillators, according to the American Heart Association. In Bellevue and Seattle, every company has at least one.

Additional factors that play a role include:

• Whether bystanders attempt CPR (this where you play a major role)
• What emergency workers do when they get to the scene
• What happens at the hospital later on

Additional Information

American Heart Association Statistics


American Red Cross CPR Training
American Heart Association CPR Training


  1. Good for the departments in King County! CPR is really fairly simple and I can’t think of any reason why firefighters and law enforcement are not all trained in it. I spent 4 years as a firefighter with our Rural Fire department and all of us were trained and certified on CPR including the use of automatic defibrillators. It’s not that hard.
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    • I have long considered joining a county volunteer group to work with the fire department, but until now didn’t have the time. I did just join the King County Search and Rescue team; the first stop was CPR training. I am about to move on to two classes on helicopter operations and then FEMA disaster classes. I am really excited to start doing field work. I am really nervous though that I will not be in good enough shape, these are the guys that run up the mountain trail for fun.

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