This article originally appeared in the 2023 Winter Issue of Two More Chains.
Carry Them, Check Them, Mark Where They Are Located
In April 2022, a story of a life saved with the help of a readily accessible AED (automated external defibrillator) was shared from a prescribed fire in Indiana. A firefighter on the West Celina Prescribed Fire on the Hoosier National Forest was found prone on the ground, initiating an EMS response.
CPR was administered. Soon, an engine arrived with their AED. In total, eight shocks were delivered from two AED units (the engine’s and an ambulance’s) until the patient was breathing on his own.
Back in 2015, the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center produced the RLS: AEDs Saved Lives – Five Recent Incidents. Those five incidents occurred from 2012 to 2015. The overall lesson highlighted in this RLS—“Buy an AED!”—is still a significant lesson. Today, when many entities have these potential life-saving tools, it is necessary to take this lesson a step further.
In more recent years, reports have indicated that AEDs are widely available in the fire community, including two incidents in which an onsite AED did not advise a shock: Chetco Bar Fire CPR Success (2017) and the Tanker Base Cardiac Arrest (2018). Knowing where to find your AED, how and when to use it, and how to store and maintain it are critical. Much like with a fire extinguisher, an AED must be maintained, batteries checked, and people must be trained in its use. Simply having an AED present will not save lives. Having a properly maintained AED present with folks (in the field and at the station) who know how to use it will.
In 2020, an AED stored in a soft case in a Type 6 Engine was likely the cause of a lithium battery fire that resulted in the total loss of the engine (see photo above).
Lessons in the RLS from this incident included: Do not store AEDs near flammable materials, including foam cushions under seats or in proximity to other combustibles (maps, clothing, etc.). Good air circulation is also advised, particularly where ambient air temperatures may exceed 100 F.
- Carry an AED in your vehicle in a safe place where it can’t be turned on inadvertently and isn’t near flammable materials.
- Check the AED regularly (as part of your PM checks).
- Mark the AED Compartment.