Chest compression machine

Kevin Lauer, left, trains Fort Ellis Fire Department volunteers with a LUCAS Chest Compression System, an automatic chest compression device for cardiac arrest patients. Thanks to a grant, agencies in Gallatin County received nine of the devices.

It only took seconds for Bozeman paramedic Luke Szymanski to set up an automatic chest compression device on a volunteer from the Fort Ellis Fire Department on Tuesday night.

Known as a LUCAS Chest Compression System, the device is arc-shaped and attaches to a backboard underneath a cardiac arrest patient. It places a large rubber plunger on the patient’s chest.

Then with just a few pushes of a button, the LUCAS begins giving chest compressions, pushing out 30 then pausing for a responder to give air before pumping out 30 more, freeing up responders to do other work on the patient.

“It does really good CPR,” said Kevin Lauer of American Medical Response, who led Tuesday’s training. “It doesn’t get tired.... It just keeps pumping.”

Of course, the Fort Ellis volunteer didn’t need the chest compressions as he was alive and well, but the demonstration was part of training that more than a dozen volunteers from Fort Ellis got from AMR paramedics.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received a grant of more than $3 million that paid for 220 LUCAS devices for first responders across the state.

Nine of those were given to agencies in Gallatin County: AMR, Central Valley, Amsterdam, Manhattan, Hebgen Basin and Big Sky fire departments, Three Forks Area Ambulance and the emergency room at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

“Seconds count. That’s what we’re learning in CPR now,” Lauer said.

Since the LUCAS devices arrived in the county in January, they have been used on about 25 patients, Lauer said.

“This is another tool in our toolbox,” Lauer said. “We’re going to see a big difference in survivability.”

Thanks to Montana Heart Rescue, started as Gallatin Heart Rescue in 2012 then adopted by the state, more than 41,000 Montanans have learned hands-only CPR. Gallatin County has implemented high-performance CPR training for its emergency medical responders and helped get the total number of automated external defibrillators available in the county to more than 300.

The survivability rate for cardiac arrest patients in Gallatin County, which was about 3 percent when Gallatin Heart Rescue began, was 19 percent as of 2015.

And 68 percent of the time when responders get to the scene of a cardiac arrest in Gallatin County, a bystander is already performing CPR. That helps bump the area survival rates to 80 percent in situations when a bystander does CPR or applies a defibrillator.

“We’re leaders in the nation in this,” said Andy Egstad, operations manager for AMR in Bozeman. “That’s a testament of the people in this community.”

“We’re going to see a big difference in survivability,” Lauer said.

Mike Cech, chief of the Fort Ellis Fire Department, said volunteers receive various trainings every Tuesday.

His department regularly responds to medical calls with AMR, so training on new equipment such as the LUCAS device is a great way to be on the same page, he said.

“It improves relationships,” said Cech, adding, “It’s just a great chance to train again.”

Whitney Bermes can be reached at or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Whitney Bermes covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.

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