HarborLAB has added AEDs with waterproof casings to our event leaders’ “go bags” of emergency supplies on NY Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. As with all emergency gear, we hope to never depend on them.
An automated external defibrillator (AED) delivers a shock that’s calibrated to reset a malfunctioning heart into its normal rhythm. There are a number of deadly myths about heart attacks. Two are that the heart simply stops beating during a typical event and that manually compressing the heart with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) will revive a victim. The reality is that the heart is usually quivering ineffectively rather than full-stopped, and that CPR buys mere minutes of brain function by extending circulation. A rule of thumb is that for each minute that passes before heart functioning can be restored a victim’s chances of reviving with nearly-normal brain function decreases by 10%. So instead of losing the person in a handful of minutes, with CPR you have at most 10 minutes to use an AED.
HarborLAB requires the presence of a volunteer at each paddling event who’s certified in adult and pediatric AED, CPR, First Aid, Basic Water Rescue, and Safety Around Water. We make note before events of AED units in park offices, nearby apartment buildings, restaurants, schools, and other places with easy access. In the chaos of an incident, however, having our own AED would allow us to act faster. We also paddle to remote beaches and islands where outside help, even from mobile first responders like the NYPD, FDNY, or US Coast Guard might not arrive in time. Remember: 10 minutes, tops.
On the positive side, contrary to popular belief one can use an AED on a wet victim. They shouldn’t be in standing pools of water but they can be pulled onto a dry surface, quickly toweled off around the chest, and treated. They needn’t be entirely dry.
It’s a bit unusual for a paddling organization as small as HarborLAB to have AEDs, chiefly because they’re expensive. Our $5000 AED budget covered the two Defibtech Lifeline AED units with extra pads, a medical oversight contract required by NY State law, durable waterproof housing, and Red Cross adult and pediatric certification for 15 volunteers We thank the Newtown Creek Group and Exxon Mobil for grants covering these costs. These companies are identified by the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency Superfund program as “potentially responsible parties” for legacy industrial contaminants in the Newtown Creek and who’ve agreed to work with the agency in studies toward a cleanup. The companies provide grants for community environmental education and projects in parallel to the formal effort.