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Outdoor AED unit in Surrey among the first in B.C.

SaveStation cabinet is alarmed and monitored – and hasn’t been used yet
St. John Ambulance staff members Drew Binette and Jaswant Gandham with the SaveStation-housed AED unit located on the wall outside the Surrey branch of the organization, at 8911 152 St. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

A building in Surrey is among the first sites in B.C. to have an outdoor Automated External Defibrillator (AED) station for use in the event of sudden cardiac arrest, as part of a pilot project to have the life-saving units available in more open, public areas of the province.

Since last July, a so-called SaveStation cabinet has housed an AED unit on a wall outside the St. John Ambulance building, at 8911 152nd Street in Fleetwood, with another located at the entrance to Oakridge Centre in Vancouver.

Both AEDs are unlocked and fully accessible to the public for use in the event of a nearby sudden cardiac arrest. While available for quick use anytime, day or night, the AED stations are alarmed and remotely monitored.

“Publicly accessible AEDs will save lives,” said Karen MacPherson, CEO of St. John Ambulance - BC & Yukon. “Up to 45,000 Canadians die each year from sudden cardiac arrests. Time is of the essence in these emergencies and people need quick access to an AED for a real chance of survival.”

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The charity is aiming to fund additional such units for placement in public spaces elsewhere, including parks and transit hubs.

“The SaveStation is the housing unit, and the AED goes inside that,” explained Drew Binette, the organization’s director of strategic partnerships and fund development. “The SaveStation is unique because it’s the only one on the market that can be placed outdoors. It cools down in the summer, and will heat up in the winter, which is key in certain areas of the country. AEDs need to be maintained at a certain temperature, or they might not work properly.”

In B.C. most AED units are placed indoors, and aren’t always accessible – such as when a facility closes for the evening.

“This unit, like others in the community, is in the 911 dispatch system, so if anyone who’s in this vicinity calls 911, the operator can say, ‘Head to St. John Ambulance, they have a unit there,’ and that can be at any time, day or night. Every minute counts, and we know that anytime you use an AED, life expectancy goes up by 90 per cent.”

In B.C., the average emergency-services response time when initiating a 9-1-1 call is a little over nine minutes, according to BC Emergency Health Services. It takes three to five minutes for brain damage to set in during a sudden cardiac arrest.

The unit at the St. John Ambulance building in Surrey has not yet been used, Binette said.

“When we installed the SaveStation here, one of things we were told is that it’d be gone within a week, that somebody’s gonna steal it,” he said. “But we’ve never had a problem here or at Oakridge. There, people have opened it because they’re curious, and there are flashing lights and the alarm goes off. There are SaveStations across Canada and there’s never been an AED theft, which is very interesting. There’s some psychology behind that, because if the cabinet was locked, those AEDs would probably get stolen, but this isn’t locked and the AEDs don’t get stolen.”

Two of the cabinets will soon be installed at Crescent Beach in South Surrey, he added.

“It’s in the works, and the Crescent Beach Association has voted on it and want to install SaveStations on either end of the walkway there, at the beach,” Binette said. “There, part of the story is that they have the train tracks that sometimes block the community off from emergency help, in an emergency situation, and there have been situations where an ambulance has had to wait for a train to pass.”

St. John Ambulance, a 900-year-old humanitarian organization, has operated in B.C. since 1911 “with a mission to improve people’s health, safety and quality of life.”

The charity recently helped install AED units in all public secondary schools in Surrey, along with four other school district sites (Bell Performing Arts Centre, District Education Centre, District Facilities Centre and Resource & Education Centre). The move was made last fall, following a campaign by Esmeralda Gomez, mother of a 14-year-old boy who went into cardiac arrest at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex last July.

• READ MORE: Surrey mom ‘so excited’ as defibrillators will be installed in Surrey high schools.

“We really applaud the Surrey school district for that, and they’re one of the very, very few districts in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley to have AEDs in schools,” Binette said. “The likelihood of someone at a school having sudden cardiac arrest is low, we know that, but why would we even want to risk that? We know it can happen.… And it’s not just for students, it’s for the teachers and also parents and others who visit the schools.”

AEDs should be installed in every workplace, Binette said, “because we know they save lives.”

The organization says a recent poll conducted by Ipsos and St. John Ambulance showed that 78 per cent of British Columbians would be willing to use an AED in a cardiac emergency if one was one available. For those who feel uneasy about using an AED, taking a CPR with AED course can increase confidence, MacPherson noted in a release.

“AEDs can be very easily used by non-medical people, as most have automated voice prompts and images to guide the user through simple steps to operate the lifesaving device,” she said, adding St. John Ambulance offers a variety of first-aid courses that teach both CPR and how to use an AED. For tips and more, visit

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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