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article / January 6, 2021

How to save a life: Making AEDs more accessible with Axon and ZOLL

Axon’s recent fireside chat for Sudden Cardiac Arrest Month highlights the need for defibrillators in police cars

Bill Schlies wasn’t supposed to be on that particular road at that particular time. He had left for work late, putting him behind schedule. Distracted by a conference call, he took a different route out of his neighborhood than he normally did. Those deviations in his usual routine would change the course of several lives on June 17, 2017, the day Carmel, Indiana resident Jeff Utzinger went into cardiac arrest during his morning jog.

Utzinger, Schlies and Officer Richard Lovitt of the Carmel Police Department recounted the events of this day in an October 2023 fireside chat moderated by Axon’s Head of Brand Evangelism Sasha Simmons. The timing was appropriate, as October is National Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month. According to the American College of Cardiology, one of the best tools for increasing sudden cardiac arrest survival rates is education. That knowledge, combined with Axon and ZOLL’s efforts to get automated external defibrillators (AEDs) into police cars, saved Utzinger’s life — and inspired his ongoing mission to help others “Be Like Bill.”

When every second counts

Jeff Utzinger has no memory of the events of June 17, 2017. His recollection is pieced together from conversations with Schlies, Lovitt and his family. That morning, he went for a jog, which was fairly typical for him. That’s when it happened: Out of seemingly nowhere, Utzinger suffered sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed.

It was pure coincidence that Schlies happened to drive by the spot where Utzinger collapsed, but there was nothing coincidental about what happened next. “When I pulled up, I had no idea what was going on. He was lying on his back,” Schlies said of the incident. He leapt into action, immediately calling 911 and alerting the dispatcher to the unconscious jogger who “collapsed on the corner.”

The dispatcher asked if there was a defibrillator available, and Schlies — understandably, since AEDs are not yet a common piece of police equipment — didn’t have one on hand. She then guided him through chest compressions, counting along with him.

Typically, in emergency medical situations, dispatchers will direct EMS teams to the location of the crisis. In this case, though, time was of the essence. According to Stop Cardiac Arrest, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of and survival rates from this catastrophic medical malady, “survival depends on emergency intervention beyond calling 911 within three minutes of collapse. A bystander administering hands-only CPR can triple a person’s chance of survival, and using an AED in the first minute of collapse can increase survival to 90%” — a massive increase from the typical 10% survival rate.

Understanding the severity of the situation, the dispatcher also alerted the law enforcement vehicle nearest to the scene. As Schlies continued to apply chest compressions, Officer Lovitt arrived in his police car — inside of which was the final key to saving Utzinger’s life. Fortunately, Officer Lovitt had a vital piece of equipment – an AED. As Utzinger put it, “All the moons and stars aligned for me.”

“Within 30 seconds or less, he was already assessing the situation, hooking up the AED and getting Jeff ready to be shocked,” Schlies explained.

The case for AED access

According to Brady Meyers, an officer who was on the scene with Lovitt, automated external defibrillators were a fairly recent addition to the Carmel PD’s toolset. “We did not have AEDs until a few years ago, and it left us somewhat hamstrung on some of these calls,” he said.

That is, until a strategic partnership between Axon and ZOLL, an industry leader in acute critical care and diagnostic tools, increased law enforcement access to AEDs. “I can’t think of a better partner in supporting Axon’s mission to protect life,” said Brandon Wahl of Axon’s New Products Team. 

Wahl and ZOLL’s Brent Brooks joined the panel to further discuss the partnership, and the feeling was mutual. “Axon is the premier provider in the law enforcement space,” Brooks stated. Because of Axon’s reputation for “quality” and “creativity,” it was able to bundle ZOLL’s portable AED devices into its Fleet 3 in-car camera offerings. “If you’re buying a camera for your fleet of vehicles, you can just add an AED to that program.”

Here’s why that’s important: Equipping police departments can be a complicated, time-consuming process. It typically requires approval from city council members or commissioners, and there are strict budgeting requirements. At the same time, community members can’t solely rely on EMS during medical emergencies, as they might not be the closest first responders in those situations where every second decreases the odds of survival. 

Bundling AEDs with an already well-known solution like Axon Fleet 3 allows departments to “operationalize that expense instead of having to budget for a long period of time” thanks to Axon’s flexible payment options.

It helps that Axon is already a known entity among law enforcement agencies worldwide, making it easier to get stakeholder buy-in. “The biggest opportunity here is just the awareness, the education, the access and the flexibility of payment,” Brooks explained. Officer Lovitt praised his “very progressive department” for being ahead of the curve and making sure its squad cars were equipped with these life-saving tools.

“A public health crisis”

Six years later, Utzinger has fully recovered from his ordeal and appreciates every moment of what he calls his “second life.” “I really shouldn’t be here,” he acknowledged. He and Schlies, who had never met despite living in the same Indiana town, are now very close; in fact, the experience inspired Utzinger to create Be Like Bill. Through this nonprofit organization, Utzinger is on a mission “to increase survival rates from sudden cardiac arrest through education, awareness and the use of [AEDs], giving people the courage and confidence to step up and save a life.”

Awareness and education are key to understanding the need for AEDs in law enforcement. There are many misconceptions about sudden cardiac arrest, perhaps most prominently that it’s the same as a heart attack. According to the Be Like Bill website, “Sudden cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. The condition usually results from a problem with your heart's electrical system, which disrupts your heart's pumping action and stops blood flow to your body. Sudden cardiac arrest isn't the same as a heart attack when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest.”

Stop Cardiac Arrest breaks down the comparison even more simply; think of sudden cardiac arrest as the body having electrical problems, while heart attacks are plumbing issues. While 911 should be called in both situations, heart attack victims may not need CPR or an AED. In sudden cardiac arrest, CPR must be performed immediately to increase the odds of survival, and “the use of an AED is the only way to restart a heart.”

Although Utzinger didn’t know the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest in 2017, he’s all too aware of the symptoms now. He calls the latter “a public health crisis” that kills a thousand people a day in the United States alone. The solution, he says, is more education — and more AEDs.

While an AED might seem like something only a medical professional or first responder would have the knowledge to use, everyone on the panel stressed that ZOLL AEDs were very intuitive. In fact, Officer Lovitt was fairly certain a child could learn to use it. “There’s no way to hurt someone with it,” Utzinger said. ZOLL’s devices provide rescuers with real-time visual feedback, which helps guide the user and ensures more productive compressions.

 One final message from the panel: Don’t be afraid to act.  It’s understandable that non-medical personnel may be wary of interfering in an emergency situation, but they shouldn’t let that fear stop them. “We have become a society fearful of getting involved in situations. I think [Schlies] saw something, and had the courage to do something,” Officer Meyers said. He described Schlies as “the hero in this situation,” and Utzinger and Officer Lovitt were in total agreement. Schlies is less convinced.

“If I can do it, anybody can,” he said.

To hear more about Utzinger’s story and the team that saved him, watch the full fireside chat. To learn more about how Axon can equip your law enforcement agency with live-saving equipment like AEDs, get in touch.