In October 1999, a friend of mine participated in a 10K race and collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. Two respiratory clinicians immediately initiated CPR before transporting him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Ron McElliott was 56 years old. Sadly, if an automated external defibrillator or AED had been available, Ron would most likely be alive today.

Following Ron’s tragic death I set out to make AEDs as readily available as fire extinguishers. Working with Karen McElliott, Ron’s widow, and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, I helped launch San Diego Project Heart Beat in October 2001 and it has saved lives ever since. The initial goal of the program was to place at least 250 AED units throughout the county by Super Bowl Sunday of January 2003. Instead, that goal was exceeded by nearly 550 AED units!

Currently we have installed more than 4,000 units in San Diego County and have saved the lives of 45 people who likely would have died without an AED.

Early on we discovered that building owners and others were concerned about liability issues. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be sued if something went wrong in using an AED. Working with then-Assemblymember Juan Vargas, I sponsored AB-2041 — the AED Good Samaritan Law — to provide the legal coverage for building owners and others concerned with potential liability.

I asked San Diego Emergency Medical Technician Maureen O’Connor what she thought the biggest challenge and the biggest reward has been since implementing San Diego Project Heart Beat. She said in the beginning we faced liability concerns and today businesses and building owners are concerned about liability if they do not have an AED.

The County of San Diego is a partner with San Diego Project Heart Beat. Thanks to the efforts of County Supervisor Greg Cox, AEDs have been installed in every public school throughout his district in south San Diego County. San Diego Unified School District has begun a fundraising effort to install AEDs at each of its 265 school sites.

The time has come to require them in new buildings. I recently proposed new municipal code language that will require AEDs to be installed in new construction in San Diego. The draft municipal code language will be applicable to all new buildings over three stories or over 10,000 square feet including office and commercial buildings, medical, dental and out-patient clinics, hotels, motels, restaurants, and common areas of residential condominiums and apartments.

Additionally AEDs would be required in places of assembly with a capacity for more than 300 people and educational facilities with more than 200 students.

The law would require new construction to be pre-wired on all floors with dedicated wall mounts for the AED system and with self acting alarms. AED owners would be required to register their equipment with the Fire-Rescue Department, test it annually, and notify the Fire-Rescue Department each time the device is used.

I foresee that AEDs will become mandatory in all buildings where the public gathers. The reason is simple: AEDs save lives. In today’s modern world, we would never build a new building without a fire extinguisher or a fire sprinkler system. Nor should they be built without life-saving AEDs.

For more information about AEDs, visit www.sdprojectheartbeat.com.

— JIM MADAFFER

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