When Ellis County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst went through the CPR course offered by Ellis County EMS, he discovered how physically demanding it is.

“I had no idea how tiring that was, after like five minutes,” Haselhorst said Monday during a discussion with County Health Services Administrator Kerry McCue about the purchase of mechanical CPR devices.

“I thought I was in halfway decent shape until I found out how good a shape I really wasn’t in,” Haselhorst said. “It was tough.”

The county commissioners at their regular meeting Monday approved the purchase of four mechanical CPR devices, one for each of the four ambulances responding to emergency calls.

“When it comes to CPR, if you’ve ever participated in CPR, it can wear you out real fast,” said County Commissioner Butch Schlyer. “As a nurse, I’ve had to do it, and to sustain it for more than a few minutes it is really, really tough.”

Of the county’s four first-call ambulances, two are stationed in Hays and one each in Ellis and Victoria.

Half the cost of three of the devices is being paid for by the county, as well as the full cost of a fourth.

The remaining funding is from a grant the county just received from the Revolving and Assistance Fund Grant Program of the Kansas Board of Emergency Medical Services, Topeka.

The commissioners Monday evening at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main, approved spending $35,472 for the four battery-operated devices, which strap around the chest, with a suction cup extending to the heart area to rhythmically pump up and down.

“Right now we’re doing manual CPR,” said McCue. “You can imagine in the back of a moving ambulance, you don’t always have sure footing, and then going around a corner. Even on a flat service, the mechanical device far outdoes a human being.”

The grant will pay for $21,283 of the cost.

Ellis County EMS applied in December for a $100,000 grant for seven of the CPR devices. The pumping cup compresses the chest when a person’s heart has stopped in an effort to revive them.

Ellis County’s four “first out” ambulances are staffed 24 hours a day. Three other ambulances are used for inter-facility transfers or for standby every day, often at events like football games, Wild West Fest and RPM Speedway car races.

The ambulance service is manned by 11 emergency medical technicians, three advanced emergency medical technicians and 27 paramedics. They cover the county’s 28,689 people over 900 square miles, according to McCue. The EMS averages about 2,300 calls and standbys a year, he said.

“With one system on each ambulance, every crew will have a device when needed,” McCue told the commissioners.

In the grant application, McCue had requested seven Lucas 3.0 Chest Compression Systems from Redmond, Washington-based Physic-Control. Each $13,238 system includes a back plate that goes under the patient’s back, two patient straps, a stabilization strap, two suction cups and a rechargeable battery.

The county received money for three.

“That does not put one on every one of our first-out emergency trucks, so what I’ve asked for is the additional,” McCue said. “That would add a fourth one that we would be paying for completely ourselves, and that would put one on all of our front-line emergency service trucks.”

McCue said the mechanical devices provide much better CPR than any person can.

“So they’re in place while we’re moving down the road; and it allows the providers to be seated and seat-belted and secure, while the device is doing its thing,” he said. “And they can also pay attention to other things, like medication administration, cardiopulmonary, things like that. It has better patient outcomes and provider safety also attached to it.”

“Kerry, are these machines being used by other EMS’s?” asked Schlyer.

“Other services are using them,” McCue said, “and those services are seeing positive results from patient outcomes. The more we see in cardiac arrest patients the more we see the importance of good quality CPR and electrical intervention.”

Each device comes with spare batteries, and each one will be tied into the electrical system of the truck, charging continuously through the electrical system, he said.

If only three were purchased with the matching grant money, McCue said the county would have one in Ellis, one in Hays and one in Victoria.

“We would have to figure out a way to make it available to both trucks, because if we put it on the first truck, invariably it’s going to be there when the second truck needed it,” he said. “Ultimately it would be more efficient if we have it on each one of the front-line trucks.”

All three commissioners voted to purchase the fourth device.

“This is a life-saving issue, there’s no question about it,” Schlyer said.

McCue hasn’t received a delivery date for the mechanical CPR systems but said he expects them by the end of July.

“There’s no installation,” he said, “But we’ll make sure crews are trained and up-to-date and ready to go with them and feel good about using them.”