Badger Mountain's trails are great for exercise and fun.
But they make for difficult terrain when it comes to responding to emergencies, especially cardiac arrests, where every second counts.
That's why two new lifesaving devices are being installed at the popular recreation spot — to help improve outcomes if someone goes into cardiac arrest while hiking or riding on the trails. The automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, are going in at Trailhead Park at the base of the hill, and at the Badger summit.
The devices are expected to be ready for use in early January.
At its peak, Badger Mountain stands at about 1,579 feet, with a network of trails of varying length and grade. Benton County established the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve in 2005, and the trails are maintained by Friends of Badger Mountain.
About 250,000 visits are recorded each year, making Badger Mountain one of the busiest parks in the Tri-Cities. When an emergency happens there, the Richland Fire Department and Benton Fire District 1 are often the agencies that respond.
"There’s not a way for any one (agency) to get up there quickly," Richland Fire Capt. Josh Smith said.
And the first four minutes after cardiac arrest are critical, as the best chance for survival without neurological damage comes if lifesaving measures are taken in that window, Smith said.
So, installing the AEDs at Badger means bystanders can jump in and help while emergency crews are on the way, he said.
"If we’re going to help build a more resilient community throughout Richland and on Badger Mountain, then we’re going to need to take a proactive approach and provide tools for bystanders," Smith said.
It's believed that about five people have gone into cardiac arrest while on Badger over the years. None of them survived.
Smith helps lead Heart Safe Richland, an initiative aimed at improving outcomes for cardiac arrest victims in Richland and beyond by teaching hands-only CPR and AED use, and by getting AED devices into the community. An AED was installed at Howard Amon Park in Richland about 1 1/2 years ago through the initiative.
While it hasn't yet been used in an emergency, there have been cases in the Tri-Cities where an AED helped save a life. Kennewick School District had two separate incidents in recent years where school staff used an AED to revive an ailing student.
Both students recovered.
An AED is a small device that analyzes the heart's rhythm and gives a shock if needed. It's easy to open and use.
Statistics show why they're important. In 2022, just 7.5% of cardiac arrest victims nationwide survived and returned home neurologically intact, Smith said. In Washington, the number was a bit better at 11.3%. Richland has been as high as 25% but was at 14% in 2022.
"There's a lot that goes into it. You can never necessarily predict and base your success off of numbers. But those numbers do mean lives. And so with 14% survival last year, that meant that eight out of 57 cardiac arrest patients that we had returned home neurologically intact, which is definitely not good enough for us," Smith said.
"Every year when we look back at our system, we see how we can improve it. That's how we ended up continuing to partner with stakeholders to put AEDs on Badger Mountain," he said.
Richland Fire Department, the city of Richland, Benton County, Benton fire districts 1 and 4, Benton County Emergency Services, Southeast Communications Center (SECOMM) and Friends of Badger all played a role. American Tower, which owns the property where the summit AED will go, also signed off.
"The neat thing about the project is that you see people collaborating around the shared vision of cardiac arrest survival," Smith said.
"The fruit of this is going to continue because now we'll focus on other areas as well, and it just expands the mindset to improve the system. It's really kind of a leadership project around enhancing the quality of life for the community," Smith said.
Benton County has taken other steps to improve safety on Badger in recent years, including adding mile markers on the trails to help recreators better identify where they are, and putting in rescue litters — or stretcher-like devices —at the base and summit.
In the case of the AEDs, Benton County is responsible for the device at the summit. It's going in on a fence owned by Benton County Emergency Services, which also will cover electricity costs. Benton Fire District 1 paid for the device, which cost about $1,800. Benton County paid about $900 for the storage cabinet.
Richland is paying for the AED at the bottom of Badger, near the restrooms at Trailhead Park. The money is coming from a $25,000 grant from Firehouse Subs that's also covering other AEDs.
Adam Fyall, sustainable development manager for Benton County, said the AEDs are a good addition to Badger.
"AEDs are known to work. They're basically foolproof. You shouldn't be intimidated by them. They are known to save lives," Fyall said. "We hope they don't have to be used at Badger or anywhere else, but they're there and we want people to know they're there."
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