Defibrillator campaign equips fishing boats with lifesaving medical devices

·3 min read
More than 100 fishing boats have been equipped with defibrillators, thanks to a program spearheaded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
More than 100 fishing boats have been equipped with defibrillators, thanks to a program spearheaded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

In a bid to shore up medical services in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore environment, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation is working to put defibrillators aboard fishing boats.

The foundation's regional vice-president, Mary Ann Butt, says the lifesaving devices are critical in the province's marine environment.

"It's not like you're in the city and you can call 911 and an ambulance shows up at your door," she said. "We recognize this is another gap where we don't have the appropriate equipment at the ready."

Automated external defibrillators can restore a heartbeat after it slows, or even stops. Butt said their simplicity of use make them an indispensable tool to have aboard.

"We actually say quite often [that] if you can turn on an AED, you can use it," she said.

After crews aboard the Hibernia oil platform heard a distress call about a fisherman in cardiac arrest, Hibernia Management and Development Company decided to fund the defibrillators, paying for 105 of them.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation then partnered with the provincial Fish Harvesting Safety Association to think about how to put them in place, said Butt.

As a result of the partnership, Butt said, 105 fishing boats are now better prepared for a cardiac emergency.

Battling the 'bystander' effect

At sea, where medical services can often be delayed, Butt said, it's imperative that bystanders take action — by administering CPR, for example — in an emergency, even if they don't feel qualified to do so.

Eddy Kennedy/CBC
Eddy Kennedy/CBC

"Even if [the CPR] is not perfect, it gives the person their best chance of survival," Butt said. "If someone is in cardiac arrest … and you don't have CPR training, you can use your phone, use your hands."

The most important thing is to have "the courage to act," she said.

"Some people have a bystander effect, where they may only have one session of CPR training and they won't step in to apply CPR. But we're saying any action is a help to a person who is in cardiac arrest."

The campaign to furnish fishing boats with AEDs comes on the heels of a five-year campaign that equipped every school in Newfoundland and Labrador with one.


N.L.'s 'genetic predisposition'

Butt says the province's demographics — most fishermen tend to be older — coupled with what she calls a "genetic predisposition" to cardiac arrests, make the situation all the more urgent.

"It's important for us to recognize that they are of that age group and we need to be ready to respond in an emergency situation," she said. "And you can only imagine that having this equipment at the ready must be a comfort to families who have family members off shore."

Butt said while "quite a number" of vessels remain unequipped, she hopes the project will be complete some time next year.

"Having the aid ready to respond and having CPR training and all of our fishers is exactly where we want to go."

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