WESTERLY — Eight years ago, an automated external defibrillator saved Bruce MacLear’s life.
MacLear, the owner of Lolo Watch Hill and a summer resident in the village, was playing hockey with other business professionals at the Stamford Twin Rinks arena in Connecticut when he suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the ice. Initial efforts to revive him were unsuccessful and the use of an AED device proved instrumental in restarting his heart.
“For eight minutes, I was considered dead. Without the AED, there’s no question that I would not be here today,” he said, noting that his family has carried an AED in their car ever since.
Fortunately for local residents and visitors to Watch Hill, they will no longer need to find MacLear or others like him in the event of a cardiac or other life-threatening emergency, thanks to the installation of four AED and first aid boxes at public locations throughout the village.
Watch Hill Fire Lt. Christopher Koretski, who serves as fire marshal for the district, said the project was part of a larger effort to reduce risks, enhance access to life saving devices in an emergency and increase the survival rate of those in Watch Hill. It was part of a collaborative effort between the Watch Hill Fire District and members of the Westerly/Charlestown HeartSafe Community Committee.
Each box is equipped with both AED devices and other first aid materials including gloves, a small set of scissors in case of the need to cut someone’s shirt, gauze and other materials in case of serious bleeding and more. The boxes themselves are vandalism-proof, waterproof and heated-cooled to protect the integrity of the devices and medical equipment inside.
The new devices have been installed at Bay Street parking lot booth directly across from Lolo Watch Hill; on the side of the ticket office by the Watch Hill Carousel; the parking lot booth on Larkin Road; and at the Lamphere Livery at 1 Bay St. All devices are accessible 24-7 during an emergency by calling 911 and obtaining a code from dispatchers in order to gain access.
“The reality is, while we are always working to enhance response, Watch Hill is not right next door to Westerly Ambulance,” Koretski said. “They are quick, but it does take time to respond and every second counts. If we can eliminate any delay then there is a better chance the victim is able to survive.”
The need for the devices is clear: MacLear’s tale of life and death may seem dramatic to some but it’s a reality that confronts hundreds if not thousands of people every day across the U.S. More than 475,000 Americans die every year from cardiac arrest, according to data from the American Heart Association. Globally, cardiac arrest claimed more lives in 2015 than colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, influenza, pneumonia, auto accidents, HIV, firearms incidents and house fires combined.
For those in the greater Westerly area, the installation is just the latest in a growing effort throughout the region — Charlestown had installed the same type of device and box in Ninigret Park in April — and is part of an ongoing effort to promote heart health and, simply speaking, save lives.
Watch Hill first embarked on the project approximately 3 years ago, according to an informational sheet provided by the district, with a direct goal of improving the ability for first responders and residents to help someone suffering from a cardiac emergency. The district initially obtained a $30,000 grant from the A.M. Roberts Charitable Foundation, which was utilized to put AEDs in first responder vehicles and make them available at select public locations throughout the community.
It was a start, Koretski said, but the district wanted to expand on the efforts. Earlier this year, the foundation came through again and provided the district with a supplemental grant of $14,500 to pay for the purchase and installation of the four new ones, which were strategically placed at the village’s most highly trafficked areas.
“The locations were determined based on where people are most frequently,” he said. “The goal is that no matter where you are, a box will always be available around the corner to jump start the response.”
Watch Hill Fire Capt. Jane Perkins, a fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League, said she hopes that the community will be able to expand further on these efforts in the future. She said she would like to see efforts like those in Westerly and Charlestown serve as a model for other communities across the nation.
For now, however, the goal will be to inform the public of the device availability and encourage residents to know they have the power and tools to save a life.
“We want to expand what we have, but more importantly, we need to make the public feel empowered. We want them to know that they can do something and can help save lives,” she said.