AEDs spark lively debate in Harrison

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Harrison Selectmen voted 3–2 last week to seek grants to acquire four defibrillators for town use. Questions lingered, however, about the town’s liability in using the portable machines to help a person having a heart attack.

Selectman Matt Frank, who serves on the Board of Directors at Bridgton Hospital, suggested Harrison acquire the automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and place them at the town office, the highway department, transfer station and the fire station community room. In summer, two of the machines could be kept at Crystal Lake Park during the eight-week summer recreation program period.

Frank pointed out that several granting organizations exist that will provide the machines for free, with the town needing only to spend around $200 per unit every three or four years to replace the battery and the electrode pads. He noted that the neighboring town of Naples recently acquired five AEDs through a grant.

“They’ve been made pretty much foolproof,” said Frank, who said the hospital is very willing to provide training in their use. “You start it up, a voice comes on, and it tells you exactly what to do.” If readings show that resuscitation is not needed, the machine will not function to provide the electric shock to the heart, he said.

“You can get an electric shock, but I’d rather err on the side of trying to save somebody’s life,” said Frank. He added that the state’s Good Samaritan law protects AED users from being sued if accidents occur, and that the town is actually more at risk by not having AEDs available on town property.

The two dissenting selectmen, Richard St. John and Kathy Laplante, however, were concerned about untrained people using the machines.

St. John said Harrison has an excellent first responder system of fire department personnel who respond immediately to an accident or rescue call before the ambulance arrives. “I would want to keep (the AEDs) in their hands,” he said. St. John said the AED at the Otisfield Town Office has no one trained to use it, and that he was never trained in its use.

Laplante agreed that first responders ought to be the ones responsible for any AEDs the town might acquire. “There’s no way in hell I’d try to pick up those paddles and use them. I wouldn’t even hear the (automated) voice, I’d be so concerned” about doing more potential harm than good.

Most grant applications want to know where the AEDs will be kept, Frank said, so at least that much information would need to be provided on the grant application. St. John said that after the grant is approved, the board could further discuss the details of whether training should be mandatory and how often it should be required.

It was also mentioned that the town’s first responders should be asked their opinion before the AEDs are distributed. Selectman Archie Belanger said one possible location could be in the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department police cruiser assigned to cover Harrison.

Recreation Director Paula Holt said the summer program had use this year of two AEDs borrowed from Shawnee Peak. She said she has both CPR and AED training, but acknowledged, “It can be a little bit intimidating” to actually use one of the machines in a life-threatening emergency situation.

Belanger suggested that once the AEDs have been acquired, the town could hold a training session to which interested residents could also attend.

Laplante said she wanted to get a legal opinion from the town’s attorney on the town’s liability before any final decisions are made on location, training and maintenance of the machines. She noted that the town’s emergency management director Ray Laplante Jr. was not in favor of having town employees use the machines.

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