Every EMSB School to Get a Defibrillator

Move follows coroner's recommendation

By BRENDA BRANSWELL, The Gazette December 22, 2010

Every school and centre at the English Montreal School Board will be equipped with a defibrillator as early as the next school year.

The board's Council of Commissioners approved a resolution last week to devote a portion of the EMSB's surplus to buy the life-saving devices for nearly 80 facilities.

The Lester B. Pearson School Board put defibrillators in its schools last year, saying it was the first board in Quebec to do so.

Like any insurance policy, EMSB Commissioner Joseph Lalla said, "in a sense you hope that they will never be used."

"But that doesn't negate their importance in any way," said Lalla, who spearheaded the push for defibrillators at EMSB schools. "And if you can save one life, then certainly you've made a difference."

In June, a Quebec coroner called for more automated external defibrillators in public places following a public inquiry into the 2007 death of Yanick Charpentier.

The 12-year-old boy, who suffered from a heart condition, died after being punched in a St. Eustache schoolyard. Coroner Andree Kronstrom said his chances of surviving would have been markedly better if school staff and police who arrived at the scene had had access to a defibrillator.

Lalla, a retired teacher and principal, recounted how one of his colleagues once collapsed from a heart attack at school. "All we could do, of course, was call 911 and unfortunately they didn't arrive in time," he said.

"So I always think back to that kind of a situation. Had we had something like that at that time, right there in the office, maybe he would still be alive."

The EMSB has an operating surplus of $4.3 million from this school year, of which $3.1 million was available for discretionary spending. The board estimates it will cost nearly $181,000, before taxes, to install defibrillators as well as oxygen tanks.

The timeline for installing the devices hasn't been determined yet, but the board says they will likely be in facilities for the next school year.

Schools with more than 1,000 people might get two defibrillators, and the board proposes having three people trained as first aid responders in each facility.

What the EMSB is doing is "extremely responsible," said Sandra Clarke, executive director of the Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation.

The charitable foundation helps set up cardiopulmonary resuscitation training programs in high schools across Canada -including at 11 EMSB facilities -and says defibrillators should be in all high schools.

The foundation has also been moving to enhance its CPR program to include defibrillator training. Clarke said that's because research shows that even as the devices become more available in public places, in the vast majority of cases paramedics or firefighters are still the first to use them.

"So in other words, the public is not pulling that defibrillator off the wall and using it to save a life because if people aren't trained they are not comfortable using it," she said.