Capt. Patrick Fale tells seniors in Tualatin that they should not hesitate to call 911 if they think they might be having a heart attack.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Capt. Patrick Fale of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue talks to seniors at the Juanita Pohl Center about spotting signs and symptoms of a heart attack Friday.A team from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue stopped by the Juanita Pohl Center in Tualatin on Friday while seniors were eating lunch.

There was no emergency at the senior center — the firefighters and paramedics just wanted to make sure that if there was one, the seniors would know how to respond.

Capt. Patrick Fale, a TVF&R paramedic, said seniors are often reluctant to call 911 to report an emergency. He'd like that way of thinking to change.

"Most often what we hear from you guys is, 'I didn't want to bother anybody,'" Fale told the lunch crowd. "You're not going to bother us. This is our job. Our job is to care for you. Our job is to respond to your home and deliver life-saving interventions."

February is Heart Health Month, as recognized by The Heart Foundation, a group dedicated to heart disease education.

Fittingly, Fale — wearing a red shirt to commemorate Heart Health Month — ran through the symptoms that people may experience if they are having a heart attack.

"The signs and symptoms for men and women are a little bit different, and a lot of people don't know that," Fale said. "People assume that chest pain is the number-one sign or symptom for a heart attack, and it's just one of many symptoms."

Persistent or recurring discomfort in the chest, shoulder, arms or neck is a possible heart attack symptom, Fale said, and a person experiencing it should call 911. Sudden shortness of breath can also be a symptom.

The most common signs and symptoms of a heart attack for women are different.

"Generally, females won't have sub-sternal chest pain," Fale said. "They'll have nausea. They'll feel lightheaded. They'll vomit. They won't have these classic signs that males have: the pain down the arm, the pain in the center of the chest."

Fale urged seniors to promptly contact 911 if they experience any of the signs and symptoms he described.

"Every minute that you delay when you have these signs and symptoms, you're potentially losing heart muscle," he warned. "If you have these symptoms, don't delay. We'll be right there. And then you'll get these handsome guys to help you out."

Fale also offered some tips on preventing falls, a common cause of serious injury and even death for seniors. Their homes should be cleared of any loose rugs and equipped with handrails in showers, he said. He also advised seniors to clean up spills or have someone else clean up a spill before they forget, as it can pose a slipping hazard, and to wear socks with rubberized anti-slip soles.

Fale was asked to come to the Juanita Pohl Center and speak to seniors by the Meals on Wheels People, the group that provides lunch for seniors at the center.

This has been a momentous Heart Health Month for TVF&R. On Feb. 14, the agency became the first in the United States to launch a smartphone app for professional firefighters called Verified Responder. That app, an offshoot of the publicly available PulsePoint, notifies firefighters when cardiac episodes are reported nearby so that they can render assistance, even when they are off-duty.

PulsePoint alerts subscribers who know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, when a possible heart attack is reported in a public place near them. Verified Responder is limited to professional firefighters and provides notice even when a cardiac episode is taking place in a private residence, so that they can enter the home and potentially provide life-saving treatment.

"Our professional firefighters are now going to be activated if someone experiences cardiac arrest in a home," TVF&R spokeswoman Cassandra Ulven told The Times.

Anyone can download the PulsePoint app, which Ulven said has spread to fire agencies throughout the Portland metro area after TVF&R was the first fire agency to introduce it to Oregon about four years ago. The app is available for Android and iPhone.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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