Each year 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest. Lauren, age 30, would’ve been one of those Americans — without the quick work of highly trained paramedics.

After Lauren had ankle surgery, she started experiencing chest pains. Just heartburn, she thought. But when she collapsed at her 37th floor Amazon office, gasping for air, her co-workers called 911. Firefighters arrived first, followed by Seattle Fire Medic One paramedics Harry Olswang and AJ Conley.

When you call 911 in King County, the dispatcher makes a quick assessment, as King County operates under a tiered dispatch system. If you’re not critically ill or injured, the dispatcher sends firefighter/EMTs to you. But if you’re having a serious emergency such as a heart attack, paramedics are sent to help. Paramedics can provide advanced life support care for the sickest patients at the scene of the emergency and en route to the hospital.

The paramedics put Lauren on a heart rate monitor, which revealed a slowing heart rate. Her fiancé, Blake, told the paramedics about Lauren’s recent surgery and current medications, which led the paramedics to accurately diagnose a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lung. Lauren’s life was endangered and required hospital transport via a Medic unit.

Then Lauren’s heart stopped. Olswang and Conley intubated Lauren and got a pulse back after several rounds of CPR. En route to the hospital, Lauren’s heart stopped beating three more times, but Medic One paramedics train for months on cardiac arrest response.

“When things are the worst possible, we’re able to kick into action and it’s instinctual at that point,” Conley says.

Advertising

The following day, Lauren woke up early at Harborview Medical Center and was told repeatedly that good CPR saved her life. “That’s a miracle, and that’s because of Medic One,” says Lauren’s mother, Carla.

Thanks to the care received and the many donors supporting the Medic One Paramedic Training Program, Lauren can share her story today.

“I want to let the firefighters and paramedics know how grateful that I am to them for choosing to go out there and be in the communities every day, saving lives and being heroes. I would not be here without them,” Lauren says.

Under the guidance of senior paramedics, a paramedic student performs an endotracheal intubation on a mock patient during one of three trauma drills.
Under the guidance of senior paramedics, a paramedic student performs an endotracheal intubation on a mock patient during one of three trauma drills.

Training saves lives

Our region has one of the best survival rates for those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest — and a meaningful recovery afterward. Much of these statistics are due to the rigorous training that paramedics undergo, notes Dr. Andrew Latimer, MD, associate medical director and flight physician, Airlift Northwest.

Medic One Foundation is the region’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives by improving pre-hospital emergency care and is the sole source of funding for the Medic One Paramedic Training Program, which provided Olswang and Conley with their advanced skills and knowledge. The foundation has invested $30 million in paramedic training, research to improve patient outcomes, lifesaving fire department equipment and citizen responder CPR/AED/first aid training.

Most Seattle and King County paramedics are firefighter/EMTs. Students are chosen for the program by their own fire department through a highly competitive selection process. A minimum of 3 years of field experience is required before entering  the 10-month training program at the University of Washington and Harborview.

While in training, these future paramedics work 60-80 hours per week, much like a first-year medical intern, Latimer says. They learn how to perform blood transfusions, provide care in Medic units, and place IVs in Harborview’s emergency department. Paramedic students are taught by physicians and learn the principles of evaluation and resuscitation of the critically ill or injured patient. All life-threatening medical emergencies are addressed, including trauma, sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke and severe COVID-19 cases.

As a result of this comprehensive approach, our region’s paramedics are trained to standards far exceeding national recommendations due to a more comprehensive education than most paramedic programs, with increased opportunities to care for real people in the field versus classroom simulations. By graduation, students log 2,700-plus hours of clinical, classroom, and field experience, over twice the national recommendations of 1,100 hours. Students also make more than 700 patient contacts, three times the paramedic training program national average.

In many areas around the nation, paramedics go out on every call — even ones that don’t require advanced levels of training. But King County’s tiered system allows paramedics to consistently work with patients who genuinely require specialized services, and therefore keep critical patient-care skills up to date. 

It pays off. The 14-24 mobile intensive care paramedics placed in Puget Sound communities each year consistently achieve a sudden cardiac arrest survival rate up to three times greater than in most other U.S. cities.

“Having these highly trained paramedics go through the program gives King County the highest level of pre-hospital care existing in the United States,” Latimer says. “It helps me sleep better at night knowing my family would receive excellent care, if there was an emergency.” 

Medic One Foundation saves lives by improving pre-hospital emergency care. Since 1974, we have invested $30 million in paramedic training, research to improve patient outcomes, equipment to help fire departments save lives, and CPR/AED/first aid training for citizen responders.