LOS ANGELES -- 'PulsePoint' app, which helps people get lifesaving CPR, coming to L.A.
Smartphones, already used to alert us of such pressing matters as sports scores and new Facebook posts, could soon help save lives in L.A.
The Los Angeles Fire Department will soon begin using an application called PulsePoint, which sends messages to people's cellphones when someone is having a cardiac emergency nearby.
The hope is that people trained in CPR will install the app, see the alerts and be able to start life-saving treatment before paramedics arrive.
Sometimes, after they see an ambulance pull up, bystanders wish they had known someone needed help, said Capt. Tom Gikas, who works in the Fire Department's Planning Section.
"How many people on a given evening in a local restaurant know CPR?" Gikas wondered.
That's exactly the question that led to PulsePoint.
Richard Price, now president of the PulsePoint Foundation, said it started about three years ago, when he was the fire chief in the San Ramon Valley, east of Oakland.
He was having lunch with colleagues when they heard a siren and saw one of their own engines pull up right in front of the deli where they were sitting.
It turned out someone had collapsed next door. Price knows CPR and had a defibrillator in his car, so he could have helped the person before the engine arrived.
But because he was the chief and not dispatched on calls, he didn't know.
That's the problem for civilians, too, Price said. Thousands of people are trained in CPR, but unless they happen to be literally in sight of an emergency, they rarely get to use the skill.
"Largely it's a matter of fate," Price said.
He wondered whether technology could help fate along.
Once he had the general idea, Price talked to people in the software industry and eventually got five students from Northern Kentucky University's "informatics" program to help develop an app.
Officials in the San Ramon Valley decided to turn the technology over to a new foundation that could help it expand to other fire departments across the country.
L.A. Fire Chief Brian Cummings has pushed the department to make better use of technology, Gikas said, and commanders heard about PulsePoint at a conference and online.
The city of L.A., like other users, won't pay any money. The iPhone and Android app is also free to the public. PulsePoint is staffed by volunteers and financed by a nonprofit foundation based in Pleasanton.
The app is already used by 12 fire departments, eight of them in California. They cover more than 100 communities, including San Jose, Davis and Alameda County.
It's tied into the departments' dispatch systems and programmed to send alerts out only when CPR is needed in public places - it won't send people to cardiac arrests in houses or apartments.
Price said PulsePoint has been activated almost 700 times and now averages four or five times a day. Recently, someone collapsed in a coffee shop in Danville and a PulsePoint alert went out.
Eight people rushed to the stricken person.
Price said it's impossible to say how many lives have been saved by PulsePoint. But there's no question that the more people use it, the more people it will help, he said.
That person who collapsed near him three years ago survived, he said, but 1,000 people a day die of cardiac arrest in the United States.
Once the L.A. Fire Department is listed in the iPhone version, you'll have to agree to let the app know your location and send you "push" alerts. Then, if there's an emergency within a set radius - probably a quarter mile, Gikas said - you'll get an alert on your phone.
Price said the rule of thumb for how valuable time is in a cardiac arrest is "10 percent a minute" - that is, if someone starts CPR within the first minute, the patient has a 90 percent chance of living.
"At 10 minutes you pretty much have no chance of survival," he said.