It was by both thoughtful planning and sheer good luck that a city life-saving program passed its first test with flying colors. And the Fire Department wants you to know that you could save the next life whether you're trained to or not.
When an Illinois man survived a heart attack Saturday after he collapsed during the Highland Games thanks to the use of an emergency defibrillator housed in the Hart Park Senior Center, it proved the inestimable value of the public-access program that has placed these machines in public buildings and offices around Wauwatosa.
Given the specific circumstances, it could be said that the plan succeeded in the one place where it most likely would have failed – with the life-saving equipment tantalizingly out of reach behind locked doors.
In a story published Thursday morning, Wauwatosa Patch told how Hart Park custodian Jim Fork happened to have returned to the Muellner Building from his rounds of the park to get a drink just when Highland Games event organizers came looking for help.
By chance, Fork was standing within feet of the locked doors of the senior center and was the only person on the grounds with a key. Within seconds, Fork was able to get the center's automated external defibrillator (AED) into the hands of an emergency medical technician who shocked the Illinois bagpiper's heart back to life.
The Wauwatosa Fire Department donated 10 older but still perfectly functional defibrillators to the city when it upgraded to new machines last year, Deputy Fire Chief Jim Case said. The department also provided training in the use of the machines to city staff.
But Case said that, trained or not, people should know where the machines are and that anyone can and should use them in an emergency.
"Absolutely," Case said, "if there's a situation that might be life or death, you should use the AED whether you've ever even seen one or not.
"These things are so automated, when you open the case it tells you, audibly, how to use it, and there's pictorial instructions printed inside as well. It's pretty straightforward, and you can't accidentally shock someone or yourself. They will only respond to certain heart rhythms.
"I know people might feel intimidated by it, but they needn't be. It can't hurt and it could save someone's life."
Case said that when AEDs were installed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, only a day and a half passed before an untrained bystander used one to restart a heart.
The AED at Hart Park Senior Center was installed in late summer, Case said. There are five more at the Civic Building at North and Wauwatosa avenues, one at the Public Works Department Operations Center, one at the Wauwatosa Police Department headquarters, one in the booking room at the police substation at Mayfair Mall, and one spare kept at the Fire Department.
At the Civic Building, one AED is at the reception desk of the Health Department, and all department staff know how to use it, nursing supervisor Lori Nielsen said.
Two AEDs are in the library, one to the left of the elevator on the lower level and the other behind the information desk in the adult library upstairs.
"All full-time staff are trained, and the desk is manned by a full-time staff member at all hours we're open," said reference librarian Mary Griffith. "The training was excellent, but a refresher would be nice.
"Everybody should remember, though, that the first thing to do is dial 911."
Two more AEDs are located upstairs in City Hall, one just to the left of the City Clerk's office in the lobby and the other just inside the entrance to the Administration offices.
Most of the City Clerk's office staff is AED-trained, and so are a number of members of the city administrative staff – including some high-level ones.
"Yes, I'm trained, although I already have my own," said City Attorney Alan Kesner, patting his pacemaker. "My training is for other people."
The one hitch in the otherwise well-planned system was overcome Saturday by miraculous good fortune. The Hart Park Senior Center is open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the park itself is host to large events evenings and weekends as well. Had custodian Fork not been where he was, when he was, a man's life would have been cut short at 49 years.
"We thought long and hard about where to put (the AED)," said Merry Johnson, director of the senior center. "It was geared toward us, we requested it, but we did think about putting it outside our doors."
The problem was where, Johnson said, and there was nowhere nearby in the Muellner Building to locate a machine that would be visible without being vulnerable. In an unsupervised location, an AED could be stolen or tampered with and not be available when needed.
"I do think that another one is needed for the park," Johnson said, especially since the park has been expanded in size and since more after-hours sports events are held there now that the football stadium has been rebuilt.
Nevertheless, despite long odds the public-access AED plan did work to perfection the very first time it was tested.
"This is the reason we do the job," Deputy Fire Chief Case said. "It made the difference in saving this guy's life."