'When you need it, you need it quickly'

Safety office installs lifesaving defibrillators on campus

- August 21, 2007

Pauline Jones and Stephen Ellis, posing as a heart-attack victim, demonstrate the use of an automated external defibrillator.  (Abriel photo)

A number of new lifesaving devices are popping up across Dalhousie, and the Environmental Health and Safety Office hopes theyÕll soon be as familiar as fire extinguishers. 

The Safety Office is installing a series of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in campus lobbies and well-travelled areas, so theyÕre easy to find in a crisis. Dal already had three Ð in Dalplex and two safety patrol cars. Five more were recently installed, with plans for at least 10 more over the next year.

ÒIf someoneÕs heart stops beating properly, an AED could start it again,” says Health and Safety Officer Stephen Ellis. ÒIf a person goes into sudden cardiac arrest, you ÔzapÕ them and hopefully restore a normal hearth rhythm. Without defibrillation, the chance of survival is virtually zero per cent.”

The rapidly aging population Ð as baby boomers move into their senior years Ð means the equipment is taking on greater significance across the continent. While DalÕs students donÕt need to worry too much about sudden cardiac arrest, the precaution makes sense with the number of faculty and staff over age 40, as well as conference attendees and audiences at concerts, lectures and other public events.

ÒThe Rebecca Cohn Auditorium is a prime example of a place where youÕd definitely want one. There are 1,000 people there most nights,” says Mr. Ellis, adding the Dalhousie Arts Centre is now equipped.

The portable defibrillators are designed so anyone can use them. Training is provided by the Health and Safety Office but itÕs not a requirement to operate the AEDs, since the devices give detailed voice prompts to guide rescuers.

ÒItÕs basically no harder to operate than a fire extinguisher, and we want them to be reasonably accessible,” says Mr. Ellis. Knowledge of CPR is very helpful, he adds, because it is used in conjunction with the AEDs for an even better chance of survival. 

Most of DalÕs defibrillators are mounted on walls in white cabinets, with an illustrated instruction chart posted nearby. Inside the cabinet is the AED as well as a black bag equipped with disposable gloves, a breathing mask, scissors and a razor (so rescuers can shave small patches on patients with very hairy chests).

When to use an AED

Electrical impulses of the heart can sometimes malfunction, creating an abnormal heart rhythm. In this state, the heart wonÕt beat properly and blood doesnÕt circulate. If someone is unconscious, has stopped breathing, has no pulse or is showing no signs of circulation or movement, the AED should be applied as soon as possible.

When the AED lid is opened, voice prompts will guide the next steps. The device analyzes the heart rhythms and then tells the operator whether to administer a shock. If defibrillation occurs within four to six minutes of the cardiac arrest, it can restore normal heart rhythm.

ÒItÕs very likely that these devices are going to be legislated for public places over the next 10 years anyway. So weÕre being proactive and making sure theyÕre available in case of emergency,” says Mr. Ellis, encouraging all departments to contact the Safety Office if theyÕd like to discuss having one installed.  

ÒItÕs a life or death issue,” he says. ÒYou donÕt really think about it until you need it. And thereÕs no point in having one five kilometers away. When you need it, you need it quickly.”


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus