Reports from police departments across the nation have detailed how automated external defibrillators have saved lives.

Thanks to the availability of year-end funds, the Fort Meade Directorate of Emergency Service now equips each of its patrol vehicles with an AED, putting the DES in a better position to save lives.

According to the American Red Cross, an AED is a device about the size of a laptop computer that analyzes the heart's rhythm for any abnormalities and, if necessary, directs the rescuer to deliver an electrical shock to the victim.

This shock, called defibrillation, may help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm of its own.

Lt. Col. J. Darrell Sides, Fort Meade Provost Marshal and director of the DES, said Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein originally tasked the DES to put the AEDs in all government buildings on post.

However, in the request for funding, Sides included adding an AED for each patrol vehicle in the DES fleet.

The request for AEDs totaled more than $100,000, he said.

While the cost of an AED varies by manufacturer and model, the average price for a single AED unit is about $2,300, according to the American Red Cross.

Sides said he included the patrol vehicles in the request because a police officer is often the first responder to a 911 call, followed by fire department personnel and then an ambulance.

"Having an AED on the scene increases the potential to save a life," Sides said.

According to the American Red Cross, statistics show that more than 200,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest every year. Up to 50,000 of these deaths could have been prevented if someone had initiated the Cardiac Chain of Survival and if an AED had been available for immediate use at the time of the emergency.

Sudden cardiac arrest cases are usually due to abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias, the vast majority of which are ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is a condition in which the heart's electrical impulses suddenly become chaotic, causing the heart to cease pumping blood effectively.

Victims of sudden cardiac arrest collapse and quickly lose consciousness, often without warning.

Automated external defibrillation must be started within minutes of the onset of the sudden cardiac arrest because every minute that passes increases the likelihood of brain damage or death. If the first emergency personnel on scene are equipped with an AED, precious time is saved and the chances of survival are increased.

DES personnel annually receive CPR training, which includes learning defibrillation skills, said Wray Kinsley, DES assistant chief of training and prevention.

"Over the past three years, DES personnel have saved two lives because an AED was on the scene," he said.

Police officers are expected to be able to respond to a variety of situations that may arise while they are on duty, Sides said. Training that allows police officers to perform basic first aid and CPR are part of the job.

"A police officer is more likely to perform CPR than fire his weapon during his career," Sides said.

What is the cardiac chain of survival?

The cardiac chain of survival is a series of four critical steps. All four steps of the chain must be present to help ensure survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

* Step one: Early access to care (calling 911 or another emergency number)

* Step two: Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR

* Step three: Early defibrillation

* Step four: Early advanced cardiac life support, as needed

The third step, delivering an electrical shock to the heart, which is known as defibrillation, is recognized as the most critical step in restoring cardiac rhythm and resuscitating a victim of SCA.

Information provided by the American Red Cross.