Kingston Police AEDs unused for five years

An automated external defibrillator. (Supplied Photo)

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Since 2015, sitting in cabinets in the Kingston Police lineup room, 36 automated external defibrillators, worth $61,000, have been sitting unused.

They were purchased in late 2014 during the time of Chief Gilles Larochelle, who had come to Kingston a year earlier from the Ottawa Police — a force that has had AEDs in all of their front-line patrol cruisers and some of their specialty vehicles since 2009.

Current Chief Antje McNeely, in a phone interview alongside Deputy Chief Chris Scott, explained that they started doing research after receiving the AEDs and found that extreme cold temperatures could affect the capacity of the AEDs’ batteries and general functioning.

She said the reason the department purchased the AEDs was to complement the first aid capabilities of front-line officers. Operating an AED is part of the Kingston Police’s annual first aid/CPR training.

The original plan was to leave them in cruisers all the time. Instead, in 2019 the department decided to develop a tracking mechanism, such as a bar code system, so officers could sign the AEDs (and other equipment) in and out. The Ottawa Police Service also has a sign in, sign out system.

“It’s true, a timelier implementation would have been preferred in this,” McNeely said. And when asked why it took five years, she replied: “We have this tracking mechanism in place now, and we’re rolling it out. It was really making sure that we have this tracking mechanism in place.”

McNeely said patrol vehicles currently have first aid kits, drug exposure reduction kits, sharps containers and naloxone.

Medical calls garner a tiered response, meaning police, paramedics and the fire department all respond.

Kingston Fire and Rescue has had AEDs on all of their trucks since the early 2000s, and Frontenac Paramedics also have them on all of their ambulances and in supervisor vehicles.

There are also 35 AEDs in municipal facilities, and they are commonly found in private businesses, for anyone to use, with no training required.

Without yet knowing why Kingston Police hadn’t put AEDs in their cruisers, Dr. Chris Simpson, a leading cardiologist and expert in heart rhythm disorders at Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Queen’s University, agreed that it was concerning that Kingston Police possess the AEDs but don’t have them in their cruisers.

“If the police are able to (put defibrillators in their cruisers,) they will definitely save lives,” Simpson said. “I’d love to have to have the chance to speak to (police) and help them overcome whatever the barriers are.”

Simpson said there are no liability concerns for anyone using an AED because the machines themselves know when to shock or not.

“These devices require no special training, they’re designed for just the public to use,” Simpson said. “There’s no possibility of making a mistake, because the patient’s rhythm is analyzed and the machine can’t deliver a shock if it is not warranted. They really are foolproof.

“If the concern is around training or liability, I’d encourage (Kingston Police) to think through that. If the concern is the cost or an administrative issue, I’d encourage them to think about the benefits and try to work through those barriers.”

Roughly one in 20 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, and about 35,000 Canadians die of cardiac arrest every year, Simpson said. He explained that the chances of somebody dying of a cardiac arrest go up 10 per cent every minute without intervention.

“Time really is of the essence,” Simpson said. “There isn’t really a whole lot of time when somebody goes down with cardiac arrest. CPR can help, of course, if nothing else is there, but getting somebody shocked back to their normal rhythm is the definitive treatment. The faster you get the pads on them and apply the electricity, the better their chances of survival.”

In addition to Ottawa, all patrol vehicles in Brockville, Cornwall and Smiths Falls have AEDs onboard. At the Chatham-Kent Police Service, only the patrol supervisors and their critical incident response team vehicles have them. Police in Barrie and Thunder Bay have a limited quantity that officers can sign out at the beginning of their shift. Peterborough Police do not have AEDs in their cruisers.

The province’s largest department, the Ontario Provincial Police, also do not have AEDs in all of their cruisers. Spokesperson Bill Dickson said there was a pilot project at one time, but they ultimately decided against it. They did not reply why the pilot project was killed in time for publication.

Kingston Police cruiser. (Steph Crosier/The Whig-Standard)

Scott Reid, the member of Parliament for Lanark, Frontenac, Kingston, has been calling for the federal government to help fund AEDs for all police cruisers, notably in RCMP cruisers, across the country since 2015. He told the House of Commons at the time that in 2012, Ottawa Police officers had saved nine heart attack victims, and in 2013 there were eight saves.

In February 2017, he told the house that: “Statistics from Canadian police forces show that one life is saved every year for every 17 installed defibrillators in police cruisers. Thus, placing defibrillators in the trunks of all 5,600 RCMP cruisers would save 320 lives per year.”

He told the House in June 2019 that it would cost about $5 million to place AEDs in 5,600 RCMP police vehicles.

“Four years have gone by and the RCMP has done nothing but invent excuses for its inaction,” he stated. “Therefore, 1,200 Canadians who would have been alive today are now dead. We could fill this room four times over with the bodies of those who died because we could not find the $5 million.”

Reid said he was told a number of years ago that Kingston Police cruisers had them, and he was surprised to learn otherwise. His staff’s research has found that the majority of municipal police forces have defibrillators in their patrol vehicles.

“It is a complete mystery why they don’t get used (by some departments),” Reid said.

Deputy Chief Scott said their tracking mechanism system should be rolled out in the next couple of months.

“We’re trying to utilize this equipment as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Scott said. “That’s why you have a bit of a time lag, that we’ve got to do it right.”

scrosier@postmedia.com

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