Santa Monica Fire Department officials said paramedics are now able to increase their level of treatment for 9-1-1 patients with possible heart problems by performing a diagnostic “12-lead” electrocardiogram (EKG) at the patientís side.

The fire department has purchased six new state-of-the-art cardiac monitors, which tell paramedics if the patient is having a certain type of heart attack called a “STEMI” (ST elevation myocardial infarction).

This type of heart attack can often be treated successfully using a procedure involving cardiac catheterization and placement of a stent to open up the arteries in the heart.

However, time is of the essence for this procedure to be successful, according to the fire department.

Once the paramedics identify an ST elevation myocardial infarction, they alert the hospital so hospital staff can begin preparing to treat the patient even before the patient arrives.

The patient is transported to a specially approved hospital called an SRC (STEMI Receiving Center). The closest such center for Santa Monica is the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

The public is reminded to always call 9-1-1 in case of chest pain, chest discomfort, shortness of breath or other symptoms that might be related to a heart problem.

More information on the SRC/STEMI program in Los Angeles County is on the EMS Agency Web site, www.ladhs .org/ems/.