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A local business whose operations revolve around afterlife arrangements has partnered with a Missouri-based company to help save lives.

The oxymoron is glaring, but it draws more attention to what is trying to be accomplished, said Gary Sharman, co-owner of Gass-Haney Funeral Home in Columbus.

In 2016, Sharman and his business partner, Brad Ramaekers, joined forces with the Vitalboards company to provide area residents the opportunity to benefit from the business’ phone application, which helps first responders in a crisis situation know certain pertinent information regarding their patient, including medications taken, allergies, emergency contacts’ information and other important medical history.

“When we learned about this idea and learned that it could really save lives we thought it was a great thing and got on board,” Sharman said, adding Columbus first responders are aware of the application and were notified of its uses when it first was accessible in town.

The application has been available free of charge through Gass-Haney Funeral Home for approximately two years, however, Sharman said a lot of information wasn’t dispersed about the life-saving tool at the time.

The application, Vital ICE (In Case of Emergency), can be downloaded through any Android or iPhone, and allows first responders to best act on behalf of emergency victims if the victim is unable to speak or is incapacitated in any way, creator Frank Hastings said.

“This gives fire, EMS, hospital people and any first responder your current medications, your emergency contacts, all of it right at a fingertip,” he said. “People with lock screens are encouraged to (set it to) the screen because half of Americans use a lock screen and that way it (information) is still accessible.”

He added those not wishing to set the Vital ICE information to their lock screen should have a fingerprint password installed, as well as getting a Vital ICE app blue and white sticker which goes on the back of the phone, indicating to first responders that it’s OK to use his or her finger to access the phone to retrieve the information.

“That gives them permission to open up the phone because they don’t want to open themselves up to any sort of lawsuit, as you can imagine,” Hastings said.

Other features of the Vital ICE app include an emergency tap button, as well as a button that instantly tells a responder a list of up to 10 people they can call and notify/call for assistance. If the emergency button is triggered, it immediately gives a GPS coordinate to dispatch centers which can expedite the response time.

“Within two seconds it gives out those GPS coordinates,” Hastings said. “It shaves off an average of three minutes and 25 seconds on response times. And I’m telling you when you are having a stroke every second counts.”

The application was nationally launched in 2015 and started becoming accessible through funeral homes in 2016, he said.

Sharman said he believes figures regarding downloads and use are available, but that he isn’t sure exactly what they are of this year.

Nationwide, Hastings said that 2,900 funeral homes are offering Vital ICE to its area residents, noting that the app won the EMS World Expo Innovation Award in 2015.

Sharman said he and his staff at Gass-Haney Funeral Home want to contribute to the community in more ways than just helping families through one of their toughest times.

“It can save a life, and life is something that is very valuable,” Sharman said of Vital ICE. “So many people think of a funeral home as just death, but if we can save a life we will because any life is worth saving.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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