Even though none of them is 10 years old, the Peterson boys already know what it’s like for medics to arrive at a cardiac arrest scene.
They experienced the scene first-hand — or at least, nearly first-hand — on Saturday with the help of virtual reality headsets at Lacey Fire District 3.
“I’m CPR certified, and my husband is active duty,” said Ashley Peterson. “But I thought that the boys could learn from this, especially the older ones. The more you know, the better.”
Four-year-old Ethan, 7-year-old Zachary and 9-year-old Caleb slipped on the headsets and joined a crew as they drove to a cardiac arrest scene. They watched as a woman struggled to remember the steps to CPR, and as Medic 1’s Preston Wallace gave a tutorial.
The boys also got to take home cardboard virtual reality viewers, provided by Google, to share the experience with friends and family.
Saturday’s virtual reality event was part of a push by Lacey Fire and Medic 1 to increase public awareness of CPR.
“One of the most challenging things for us is to get citizens to engage in CPR before we arrive, said Karen Weiss, a Lacey Fire paramedic. “It can be really scary, people are hesitant, they’re fearful they’re going to harm somebody.”
But, it’s vital, Weiss said. Performing CPR increases the survival rate for cardiac arrest victims by about 50 percent. Because more than 80 percent of heart attacks in Thurston County happen outside of a hospital, defibrillators aren’t always handy. CPR helps them work better once medics arrive on scene, she explained.
“Don’t stop until we get there,” Weiss said. “Because we’re sending you the closest EMS unit to you, and they’ll take over when they arrive.”
Weiss and other fire district employees decided that the best way to encourage people to perform CPR is to show them what it’s really like. They first launched a one-minute public service announcement, which was published through social media and shown at movie theaters throughout Thurston County.
Then they enlisted the help of Zac Murphy, who was a University of Washington graduate student when he began working on the project. While working on another project, he rode along with medics for six weeks and ended up with hours of footage.
He realized that like many people, he hadn’t been aware of what firefighters and medics do on a daily basis. Murphy thought that he could help bridge that gap with his footage.
“The fire department has a great mission, and it’s so simple,” Murphy said. ‘They want people to respond and participate.”
The virtual reality experience borrows from a practice firefighters, paramedics and EMTs rely on during training: It should be as real as possible so that people know exactly what to do when a situation comes up, Weiss said.
“If you’re actually faced with a cardiac arrest, you’re going to be more likely to respond quicker and more accurately because you’ve already had the experience through virtual reality,” Weiss said. “So you’ll pull those experiences from your brain and go, “I remember, I’m not supposed to pause. I’m supposed to get on the chest and keep going.’”
“To date, we’re the only agency we can find that is doing public health outreach through virtual reality.”
The EMTs at Lacey Fire agree that the virtual reality experience is true to life. EMT Bernadette Pellegrino, who helped with Saturday’s event, said many of them put on the Samsung goggles before the public arrived.
“It felt a lot like what we actually do,” Pellegrino said. “And I think that’s important because people need to see what we experience.”
While the viewers are fun, Weiss said they come with some responsibility. She asked each person given a viewer to share the experience with eight other people.
Once they’ve shown eight people, they’re asked to draw a number eight on a piece of paper with a heart around it, take a selfie with the paper, and post it on Lacey Fire District 3’s Facebook page with the hashtag #CPRSavesVR.
“Our ‘Show 8’ campaign is how we hope to keep this rolling throughout the next year,” Weiss said.
People are also asked to share their CPR stories on the Facebook pages.
The project wouldn’t have been possible without Weiss and Murphy’s hard work, and the willingness of community members to participate, said Chief Steve Brooks.
“As an agency head, I’m always supportive of people looking for new ways to educate our community,” Brooks said. “It’s nice to interact with at a community at a time other than when people are having an emergency.”
He said the district sees less than 10 percent of its population each year through 911 calls, so it’s nice to reach out with a proactive campaign and get to know more people.
Weiss called the project a true labor of love. The video was filmed in her kitchen, with Chief Mark Gregory of Thurston County Fire District 17 playing the cardiac arrest victim.
“We had to do so many takes that we actually dislocated one of his ribs,” Weiss said. “He walked out of the day of shooting hurting, but boy, he was great. So I think he’s given more to the campaign than the average person.”
People who didn’t attend the event can stop by Lacey Fire District 3 to pick up cardboard viewers. The virtual reality videos and instructions for watching them can be found at cprsavesvr.com.