Pa. township considers implementing AED ordinance
The new ordinance would require building owners to put an automated external defibrillator in high-occupancy places
By Bill Cameron
BUSHKILL, Pa. — Middle Smithfield Township supervisors are considering a new ordinance that would require building owners to put an automated external defibrillator in high-occupancy places. The township Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the proposal during its Oct. 25 meeting.
To the board's knowledge, this would be the first such law in state.
"Part of our task as supervisors is to encourage our businesses to look out for the general population and their employees," said township Supervisor and former ambulance driver Mike Dwyer. "This ordinance is something that has been done in a few cities across the country, but not here in Pennsylvania."
"We require fire extinguishers to save buildings. Quite honestly, these AEDs can save lives. I personally believe it's more important to save a life than a building, and if we can do something to encourage that from our businesses, it would be beneficial to everyone."
The proposed ordinance would mandate that buildings with an anticipated daily occupancy of 50 or more people be equipped with at least one AED unit on site. Those AEDs must be housed in an accessible location no more than 300 feet from the furthest point of that floor and visible from the building's primary public entrance.
Regulated buildings with more than one floor would be required to have at least one AED on each level, the ordinance also states. The maximum distance between any two AEDs on a single floor may not exceed 600 feet.
"All of the township buildings have these, and all of our staff — including public works, administrative staff and the supervisors — are trained in their use," Dwyer said. "If they're located more predominantly in businesses and places where people congregate, we can definitely save lives by having that AED available to them."
AEDs are electronic devices capable of administering a shock to certain victims of cardiac arrest. The electrical current temporarily interrupts a failing heart's natural circuitry, providing an opportunity for the body to reset to its normal blood-pumping rhythm.
AEDs will deliver a shock only when a shockable heartbeat — an irregular or out-of-sequence rhythm — is detected. The device will not shock someone if a normal rhythm or no heartbeat is detected, and users are warned to take the necessary precautions before the unit discharges any electricity.
"I don't believe any harm can be done," Dwyer said. "It describes where connections have to be made and tells you what to do."
"If there was an emergency they would probably be calling EMS anyway, but it's good to have that AED available immediately."
AEDs along with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, can dramatically improve the odds of survival for someone in cardiac arrest. Permanent brain damage can occur after just minutes of oxygen deprivation, and few victims survive more than six minutes without immediate treatment.
Most AED units are almost entirely automated, walking users of nearly any skill-level through the process of administering a shock when necessary. All AEDs approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration utilize voice commands, often in multiple languages, that prompt users on what to do. Many devices also provide visual prompts for the hearing impaired.
"These devices are very user-friendly," Dwyer said. "It would not be difficult for a lay person to just pick one up and use. The machine itself basically instructs you exactly how to use it."
Dwyer encourages businesses to train their staff on AED usage, he also said, but building owners would not be required to do so.
The ordinance, if enacted, would apply to all new construction in the township. Existing buildings would be grandfathered in; however, as with any construction regulation, owners must bring buildings up to code when performing permitted renovations or improvements.
AEDs generally sell for about $1,500 to $1,700 depending on the manufacturer and model. Costs nationwide have fallen sharply since 2001, when competitive bidding began as a result of Pennsylvania's decision to be first in the nation to provide AEDs for all its public school districts.
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