Malfunctioning safety equipment is merely scrap metal

Whether it’s a smoke detector with its battery removed to run the TV remote, or an automated external defibrillator that has drained its battery since last tested, neither appliance can do its job of saving a life in jeopardy should the need arise. Routine inspections are an essential follow through.

On January 17 a Pitt Meadows Old Timers Hockey player survived a heart attack after a game thanks mainly to the quick application of CPR by teammates and a rink engineer who happened to be clearing an empty dressing room.

Four battery-powered automated external defibrillators are stationed around the rink but the closest one proved inoperable due to a drained battery. (Seems a glitch in the machine’s innards might have used excess battery since the last inspection.)

The engineer provided CPR while a teammate worked the second defibrillator until paramedics and firefighters arrived. (Thornhill firefighters bring along their own defibrillators .)

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. provides defibrillators to public places where large numbers of people gather on a regular basis such as recreation centres, arenas, pools, community centres, libraries, senior centres, busy playing fields, parks and beaches, or where emergency response times are longer than it takes to save a victim of sudden cardiac arrest.

That’s three minutes. Every minute more increases the risk of irreversible brain damage, and death.

Qualified medical personnel teach three hour courses to small groups in the proper use of the defibrillator as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a companion application.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends monthly inspection of each defibrillator to ensure it is in working condition, but from now on Pitt Meadows rinks will check theirs weekly to be sure they will activate when a life depends on them.

One of the grocery stores I shop at weekly has a defibrillator stationed on the wall near one of the checkouts. Are all staff trained in the operation of the machine? Do they undergo periodic refresher courses? In a panic situation would they recall where the machine is situated or has it become an overlooked touch to the decor?

Are new hires immediately trained in using the defibrillator or would their training wait until the next regular course is taught, perhaps months hence?

Suppose a store has only limited staff on duty at any one time. If finding a staffer to price check an item can involve a lengthy hike through display aisles, how many precious minutes might elapse while tracking down a first aider?

Ideally the whereabouts of each defibrillator, whether in a school, arena or other public space, is mapped so that anyone could quickly find it if a medical emergency arose. Still I recall reading about one public defibrillator kept in a locked room that could be accessed only with a key; the person carrying the key was gone at the time it was needed. Bummer.

Equally as useless as defibrillators with weak batteries are safety devices never engaged.

A safety board report following sinking of an oil-loaded barge near Bella Coola two years ago concluded a safety system created to automatically make periodic course corrections should the tugboat skipper doze off had not been “engaged”. Gallons of leaked oil fouled Heiltsuk First Nation fishing grounds.

How onerous were the steps needed to engage that safety device?

After learning of the Pitt Meadows hockey player’s near miss, I ‘ll be pondering my chances of survival if I were to keel over while paying for my groceries or choosing a book at the library.

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