Defibrillators in public buildings need more upkeep

Automated external defibrillators are easy to use but need routine maintenance to work properly to save a life.

Automated external defibrillators are easy to use but need routine maintenance to work properly to save a life.

Documents obtained Access to Information showed 562 reports to Health Canada between 2007 and January 2012 of incidents with defibrillators.

Hockey commentator Don Cherry unveiled an automated external defibrillator (AED) as part of a campaign to mandate the devices at schools and hockey arenas, where they need to properly maintained. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

In 102 cases, the devices wouldn't power on or turned off unexpectedly.

Nine of the patients died.

The devices are designed to be easy to use but components like batteries and pads need to be checked regularly.

There is no question that defibrillators save lives. The push is to better track the devices, said Dr. Allan de Caen of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

"I am worried but I think it’s a flag that goes up," de Caen said. "We still need to use the devices, but we need to have a better grasp on how people are actually using them and maintaining them after they purchase them."

Used in conjunction with CPR within the first three minutes of a cardiac arrest, the defibrillators can increase an individual's chance of survival by up to 75 per cent. Each minute defibrillation is delayed reduces survival rates.

Since the devices might sit for months or years before they are used, de Caen said someone needs to pay attention to the batteries, in the same way that fire extinguishers and fire alarms are monitored.

Many public places already have defibrillators. During the last federal election campaign, the Conservatives promised to put a device in every hockey arena across the country.

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When Tanya Lahey's 14-year-old son collapsed after he was hit in the chest with a puck in Cape Breton, the rink's defibrillator battery was dead. A paramedic performed CPR until an ambulance arrived with a working defibrillator.

"To me knowing that all of these AEDs have failed, that should be the kicker that everybody should want to find a way to make them work better," said Lahey, who is pushing for a national tracking system.

So far, Manitoba is the only province that has passed legislation to make registering and maintaining the devices mandatory to ensure that the life-saving machines work when needed.

With files from CBC's Briar Stewart