It may come as a shock, but the Wisconsin Capitol Police are ahead of many of their law enforcement peers in fighting fatal heart attacks.
That’s because the department’s efforts involve administering another kind of shock – using what’s known as an automatic external defibrillator – to save heart attack victims.
The Capitol Police are among the first in the state to be trained in the use of the automatic defibrillators.
And with nine new units on hand in Madison and Milwaukee, they are also one of the state’s best-equipped law enforcement agencies.
"This will give people a better chance for survival from cardiac arrest," said Officer David Klocek, who has led the department’s efforts to get and use the machines.
With a statewide staff of about 50 officers and supervisors, the Capitol Police are about the equivalent of a medium-sized suburban police force.
But they are responsible for keeping an eye on some of the state’s most frequently visited sites, including the State Capitol, the governor’s mansion (officially known as the Executive Residence), and scores of state offices and buildings in Madison and Milwaukee.
Among just the Capitol, the residence and the numerous state office buildings in the Madison area, officials estimate that literally tens of thousands of Wisconsinites pass through areas within the department’s jurisdiction.
That frequent public contact has made the agency a leader in promoting CPR training, especially among state employees, said Klocek. And it led to the drive to get the new defibrillators, which cost about $3,000 each, he said.
"When you just think about the number of people who are at the Capitol on a Saturday for a Farmers’ Market, if there’s an emergency, we could be there within a minute," Klocek said.
Such a quick response is essential in helping heart attack victims survive.
Experts estimate that victims who receive defibrillation within five minutes of suffering cardiac arrest have a 50 percent higher chance for survival. The chances of survival decline by 10 percent for each minute the heart is stopped.
The defibrillator units are similar to ones used by paramedics and EMTs, but are a little more user-friendly.
Weighing just over 8 pounds, the defibrillators monitor a patient’s heartbeat and then signal whether he or she needs to be shocked. The units will provide the shock only if a patient’s heart has stopped.
"They’re pretty foolproof," said Officer Lary Corcoran.
The department has assigned one defibrillator each to the Capitol and Executive Residence, put one in a patrol van and one in each of the agency’s three marked squad cars. Two units are assigned to Milwaukee.
Because four Capitol vehicles routinely patrol the Madison area, those units are available to back up area police and emergency personnel, Klocek said.
Several incidents have demonstrated to Capitol Police the need for the new equipment.
During Gov. Tommy Thompson’s inaugural celebration in January, an administration official collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack.
Although the official was later found to be OK, Klocek said there were several anxious moments as Capitol officers waited for Madison paramedics to arrive.
In 1997, one of their own, Officer Gordon Ray, suffered a heart attack while he was guarding the governor.
Ray’s heart never stopped, so he would not have needed defibrillation, and he later made a full recovery. But the governor said later the emergency impressed on him the need for quick action.
Klocek added, "Like any situation, it really hits home when it happens to a family member or a friend. It’s a wake-up call that this can happen to anybody at any time. We just want to be prepared.