Members of the NTVFD and Alaska State Troopers installing AEDs.

The North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department recently purchased 34 automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, and is finishing installation of the units. Fire chief Jerry Kiffer says the project was funded through a Commercial Passenger Vessel grant due to the large number of cruise ship passengers bused into the service area. He says time is critical if someone goes into cardiac arrest, and to be effective, defibrillation need to happen within five minutes of a heart attack. Kiffer says in the best-case scenario, after receiving a call, it will take emergency responders at least five to eight minutes to reach the scene.

“Our answer to that was, well, we need to move the defibrillator closer to the area in which these large groups of people are going to be taken. So we came up with the idea that the only way we can do that is to actually station the unit, and train people to use it, in those locations.”

Kiffer says 28 of the units have been mounted so far from Ward Cove to Settlers Cove, and two more will be mounted when approved by property owners. He says most are located at sites frequented by tourists.

“Knudson Cove Marina. The zip-line tours. The go-cart tours. Places that the tourists are actually being bused into. But we also have them stationed at Ward Cove Market, the post office, and in areas that the buses will be driving by.”

He says four units also were provided to Alaska State Troopers to be carried in patrol vehicles.

“They’re out patrolling the service area and, quite frankly, island wide. But, they’re mobile and a lot of times in a cardiac event, a State Trooper may be the first on scene.”

Kiffer says the AEDs have simple instructions and can be operated by anyone in the event of an actual emergency.  Though easy to operate, he says unit-specific training is provided to employees where the AEDs are located to ensure pads are applied correctly.

“So when an ambulance shows up, we don’t have to take the AED pads off the patient and put our pads on. What these pads do, is they give the medics the ability to look at what the underlying heart rhythm is while CPR is in progress.”

Kiffer says the units are clearly labeled and mounted in public places. He says the goal is to have an AED within five minutes of anyone in the North Tongass Service Area.