LAKE GEORGE - Paramedic Grant Gentner watched an automated plunger pressing down repeatedly Monday on the chest of a vinyl training dummy in the headquarters of the ambulance squad he leads.
With a repeated "whoosh … thump" noise, the machine compressed the dummy's chest rhythmically as it delivered a measured dose of oxygen, exactly every 5 seconds.
"This mechanical CPR machine does continuous and perfect resuscitation, and it never gets tired," he said.
This automated cardiopulmonary resuscitator is one of two now ready for Lake George Rescue Squad members to use as they coax heart attack victims back from the brink of death, Gentner said.
The machines, operated by the squad's trained personnel, will be valuable in saving lives, he said.
The Lake George Rescue Squad is believed to be the only team using the machines - affectionately known as "thumpers" - among 22 squads operating in Warren and Washington Counties, regional emergency officials said.
Among their 15 emergency squads, Saratoga County has two equipped with the machines, county Emergency Services Coordinator Michael McEvoy said - the Wilton Emergency Squad and the General Schuyler Emergency Squad of Schuylerville.
Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Gary Scidmore said the thumpers were "very helpful" in helping resuscitate heart attack victims, and that he'd "absolutely" support equipping all 13 of his county's squads with the devices.
"During an ambulance trip, the machines offer the advantage of consistent and accurate compression and ventilation," Scidmore said, comparing the automation to hand compression, which could be irregular when responders are "jostled around" in the back of an ambulance.
Scidmore's Washington County counterpart, Mark Spiezio, said the devices could likely save lives if his county's nine squads were equipped with them.
"I believe they'd undoubtedly improve patient outcome," he said, noting that in Washington County, squad members respond to about 100 heart attacks per year, and only about 5 percent of the victims survive.
The primary problem, he said, is the distance between county citizens' homes and hospitals, and how far EMTs must travel to administer emergency aid.
"If I could, I'd equip all my county's squads with them, but the problem with doing so is their expense," he said.
New, the machines cost about $15,000. Lake George bought its for about $8,000 each, according to Gentner, president of the Lake George Emergency Squad.
He said all his emergency medical technicians and the members of the Lake George Fire Department - a total of 40 or so emergency responders - have been thoroughly trained in the use of the resuscitator.
Squad captain Chris Hawley conducted the two sessions of training, several hours each, that the emergency responders received last month, Gentner said.
He credited fellow Lake George squad member Peter Berry, who is also a paramedic in the Albany area, for introducing the devices in Lake George.
Berry said the thumpers offer precision resuscitation, while requiring half as many EMT's attending to the victim - two or three rather than five or six, allowing most of them to be properly restrained in seat belts.
"It can be very unsafe at times to perform CPR in a moving ambulance," Berry said. "Thumpers not only provide highly efficient resuscitation and more effective care, they can improve safety for the rescuers."
Glens Falls Hospital Emergency Care Center Medical Director Dom Carillo also said the resuscitators can be valuable.
"They can free up the hands of emergency responders to do something more important in terms of advanced life support," he said, adding that some rookie responders might not compress a victim's chest aggressively enough.