Defibrillation campaign equips fishing boats with life-saving medical devices

More than 100 fishing boats have been fitted with defibrillators through a program run by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

In an effort to strengthen medical services in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore environment, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is working to install defibrillators aboard fishing vessels.

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

“It’s not like you’re in town and you can call 911 and an ambulance shows up at your door,” she said. “We recognize this is another shortcoming where we don’t have the proper equipment on hand.”

Automated external defibrillators can restore a heartbeat after it has slowed or even stopped. Butt said their ease of use made them an essential tool to have on board.

“In fact, we quite often say [that] if you can turn on an AED, you can use it,” she said.

After crews aboard the Hibernia oil rig 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, Butt said.

Thanks to this partnership, Butt said, 105 fishing boats are now better prepared for a cardiac emergency.

Fighting 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. .

Mary Ann Butt, senior vice-president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Newfoundland and Labrador, says fitting boats with defibrillators is critical to the safety of those working at sea. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

“Even if [the CPR] isn’t perfect, it gives the person their best chance of survival,” Butt said. “If someone’s 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 CPR training session and they won’t step in to apply CPR. But we say any action is a help for a person in cardiac arrest .”

The campaign to equip fishing boats with AEDs follows a five-year campaign that equipped all schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A distress call about a fisherman in cardiac arrest heard by Hibernia rig workers highlighted the need for defibrillators on board fishing boats, Butt says. (Radio Canada)

NL’s “genetic predisposition”

Butt says the province’s demographics — most anglers tend to be older — coupled with what she calls a “genetic predisposition” to cardiac arrest, makes the situation all the more urgent.

“It is important for us to recognize that they belong to this age group and we must be ready to react in the event of an emergency,” she said. “And you can only imagine that having this equipment on hand must be a comfort to families who have family members overseas.”

Butt said while “a number” of ships remain unmanned, she hopes the project will be completed next year.

“Having the help ready and having CPR training and all of our anglers is exactly where we want to go.”

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