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Defibrillator Theft and Damage Putting Lives at Risk


The growing number of crime incidents in which valuable defibrillators have been stolen or vandalised is causing concern. In this post we look at the valuable role played by community public access defibrillators (cPAD) and consider the challenges faced in keeping these vital pieces of equipment safe and secure.

Remarkably, defibrillators were first demonstrated way back in 1899 by Jean-Louis Prévost and Frédéric Batelli. These two physiologists from University of Geneva, Switzerland had discovered that small electrical shocks could induce ventricular fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm, in dogs and how a greater electrical shock could reverse the condition.

The external defibrillator that we see today originated in 1930, developed by Electrical Engineer William Kouwenhoven. His study into the relationship between electric shocks and the effect they have on the human heart was further progressed by pioneering cardiac surgeon Claude Beck. When a 14 year old patient’s heart stopped during surgery in 1947, he had his experimental research equipment urgently brought to the operating theatre from the hospital’s basement. His simple device used a transformer, to isolate the patient from the 110-volt mains AC supply, a variable resistor to ensure the current was safe and two metal table spoons to apply the electricity directly to the patient’s exposed heart. Wooden handles were used to keep the surgeon operator safe.

The first shock applied to the boy’s heart failed, but the second brought him back to life. This remarkable event made the national news but little was known or understood about exactly how the technique worked.

It was a decade later when one of Kouwenhoven’s graduate students, Lina Schtern, moved to the Soviet Union and further developed the technique. This led to the development of the Czechoslovakian Gurvich Peleška`s Prema defibrillator, pioneered in the old Soviet Union and satellite countries. A portable version of the Gurvich Peleska defibrillator, model DPA-3, was first reported in 1959.

The development of the portable defibrillator, outside the Soviet Union, is accredited to professor Frank Pantridge, a physician and cardiologist from Northern Ireland who transformed emergency medicine and paramedic services with his portable defibrillator invention. In the early 1960s he developed the first truly portable device which weighed over 70Kg and required it`s own vehicle to transport it.

What is an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED)

Today’s automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are now a common feature in public buildings, offices and community hubs. These modern, sophisticated devices are capable of analysing a patient’s heart rhythm and if necessary, deliver an electrical shock or defibrillation that can help their heart re-establish a healthy, stable rhythm.

Using a defibrillator to help the heart restart is the only way to save the life of someone suffering from cardiac arrest. In 2020 the London Ambulance Service reported how 10.8% of people now survive cardiac arrest outside of hospital environments, thanks to the availability of defibrillators.

defibrillator sussex
Defibrillator with Clear Instructions


How Does a Defibrillator Work?

AEDs are lightweight, battery-operated, portable devices that use pads with sensors, called electrodes to connect with the patient`s body. After activating the device it carries out a brief, automatic internal check before the electrodes are placed on the patient’s bare chest. This allows a computer in the AED to analyse their heart’s rhythm. If the device determines defibrillation is needed the operator is instructed to clear the area around the patient before pressing the activation button which then delivers and electrical jolt.

What Voltage is a Defibrillator?

An AED can deliver a 3000-volt charge in under a millisecond. This is enough electrical energy to illuminate a 100 watt light bulb for 23 seconds. After delivering the electric shock the operator is instructed to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and after a further two minutes the AED carries out another analysis of the patient’s heart to determine whether defibrillation is needed again.

Is a Defibrillator Easy to Use?

Defibrillators are designed to be simple to use and they don’t require any special training. Once these units are switched on they provide clear instructions, guiding the operator to attach the defibrillator pads as required. Importantly, they are very safe devices that make it impossible to shock someone accidentally.

What Does a Defibrillator Cost?

Prices for outright purchase of defibrillators start at around £1000 and can be in excess of £1600. Additional costs include appropriate cabinets for external storage along with ongoing maintenance. But many communities, businesses and organisations opt for serviced rental plan packages that include regular, expert servicing, signage, wall mounting brackets along with replacement pads, batteries and child pads, if these are required. These rental options cost around £400 to £500 per year.

How to Install a Community Public Access Defibrillator

Community Public Access Defibrillators (cPADs) are installed on the outside walls of buildings enabling people to access them at any time. Various cPAD cabinets are available with different features, as discussed later in this post. An essential requirement is the need for a mains power supply where the cPAD is installed. While the defibrillator device doesn’t require power their enclosing cabinets include heating, to ensure the enclosed AED is always at optimal operating temperature, along with lighting. It`s recommended that mains powered, heated cabinets are always installed by qualified electricians.

palmers green stolen defib
Valuable Defibrillator Stolen from Palmers Green Station


Defibrillator Crime

Sadly, an increasing number of defibrillators are being stolen or vandalised. In one shocking case a Northwest Ambulance Service paramedic was jailed for stealing life-saving equipment, including several defibrillators. Police investigators discovered the ex paramedic had been selling medical equipment via several ebay accounts and was in communication someone in the Czech Republic about purchasing defibrillators.

In Wales 7 incidents of defibrillators being vandalised or stolen from train stations were recorded over just a 9 month period. Police are reported to have been following up on security camera footage showing perpetrators in action and AEDs are now being locked in cabinets at the stations.

Crime reports reflect how there doesn’t appear to be any area of the UK that hasn’t suffered defibrillator crime with incidents occurring in Bristol, Oldham, Blakelaw, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Palmers Green, Hull, Nuneaton and more.

The family of a girl who died from an undiagnosed heart condition have expressed their disgust over a spate of defibrillator thefts in their area. The girl’s family said that if a defibrillator had been on hand at the time of the 17 year old`s death it might have saved her life. Defibrillator thefts around Warwickshire and Leicestershire had prompted some Co-op stores to lock their devices away at night, raising concerns over their availability.

vandalised defib
Vandalised Defibrillator Cabinet - Wales


How to Keep Defibrillators Safe and Secure

Selfish thieves and vandals are putting people’s lives at risk with their crimes. As noted, some are apparently stealing machines to dismantle and sell the parts on ebay. And mindless vandalism of life-saving equipment beggars belief!

Publicly accessible AEDs play a vital role in keeping people alive by providing vitally important defibrillation equipment right where it`s needed. Ambulance services have stressed that survival rates for cardiac arrest can be boosted by as much as 70% if an AED is used within 5 minutes of a cardiac arrest. A person’s chance of survival decreases by around 10% every minute without CPR and defibrillation.

Community Public Access Defibrillators need to be easily and speedily accessible so this presents a challenge in how to maintain accessibility while also protecting this vital equipment.

Education is an important factor. If youngsters know and understand what defibrillators are and how they save lives they are far less likely to indulge in mindless vandalism or theft. Education also encourages people to be aware of the valuable defibrillators in their communities and report any damage or dubious attention they might attract.

Another important point, not always known by thieves, is that all devices have unique serial numbers making them traceable. And all publicly accessible devices are registered with the emergency services. Unique serial numbers and registered ownership makes it very difficult for criminals to resell stolen devices.

Defibrillator cabinets are increasingly being used to protect and secure AEDs. Some external cabinets include alarms, designed to scare off potential thieves or vandals. Others have numeric code locks along with telephone numbers to call, in an emergency, to receive the code to access the AED.

If you have any questions about home or business security remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll be happy to provide free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 6th October 2022


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