Defibrillators on Metra in January

Metra is nearing completion of an initiative to equip all commuter trains with potentially lifesaving defibrillators, officials with the rail line said Thursday.

About 300 automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs, will be installed on Metra trains by the end of January. Additional defibrillators will be put in place at Metra work facilities and in its police vehicles, according to the agency.

The defibrillators monitor a person's heartbeat for irregularities and deliver an electrical current to those stricken with sudden cardiac arrest. The hand-held machines issue audio instructions, so even those without training should be able to use one, officials said.

"Even third-graders can use these devices," said Dr. Amer Aldeen of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, which is partnering with Metra on the initiative. "They don't shock people who are sleeping. They don't shock people who are drunk."

About 300,000 Americans a year suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting, and 92 percent of them die of it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A defibrillator can triple the survival rate, Aldeen said.

Metra doesn't keep track of how many people suffer from cardiac arrest while on board a train, but estimates trains are forced to make unscheduled stops 10 to 20 times a month for emergency medical situations, said Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.

Every Metra train will have at least one defibrillator on it, with the aim being to have the devices on every other car. About 1,000 Metra employees, mostly those who work on the trains, will be trained in how to use the equipment, according to Metra.

In September, the Metra board agreed to pay $664,606 for a contract with Cardiac Science Corp. to provide the AEDs and maintenance services for two years, according to the agency.

The Federal Aviation Administration has required defibrillators on passenger airplanes since 2001. But most transit agencies have been slow to add the devices to commuter trains. Metra announced it was adding defibrillators in August 2011.

In 2009, 64-year-old Michael Crowe was riding to work on a Metra train when he collapsed with heart attack symptoms. Two nurses on the train attempted to resuscitate him, but Crowe later died.

Crowe's family applauded the addition of defibrillators on Metra trains.

"I wish they had gotten it sooner," said his daughter, Michelle Crowe, who is trained in AED use. "They can save people's lives."

Twitter @nsnix87

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