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Defibrillator breathes new life into safety training, ER response

Last week, officials with the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge installed a device they hope they never have to use — an automated external defibrillator (AED), used in cases of cardiac arrest to assist CPR and help hearts find lost rhythms.

The cabinet containing the unit is located next to the center’s office counter, high up on a wall where curious, young hands cannot likely reach. A blinking green light shows the battery is functioning, and an alarm sounds whenever the cabinet door is opened.

Aside from its inherent medical benefits, the life-saving device has helped kick-start a new initiative at the center to not only have employees formally trained on AED use, CPR and first aid, but to renew a facility-wide emergency response plan, according to Maureen Bond, the center’s executive director.

Bond said hundreds of locals, ranging in age from 16 months old to 101, come to the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge each week to dance, play, exercise and make art. Having another way of keeping them safe in the event of an emergency benefits them and the center.

“I believe the community has an expectation we’re safe, we know what we’re doing and we’re prepared,” Bond said. “I would hate for something to happen, and we didn’t have this in place.

The AED unit costs about $1,500, so Bond reached out to the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Foundation for a possible grant to pay for the device, figuring the community hospital would likely be where anyone injured at the center would be admitted.

Deborah Weirick, who does community outreach through the foundation, found Bond’s request to be in line with the hospital’s wider goal of increasing resident access to healthcare and so passed it along to hospital officials.

Keith Hobbs, the hospital’s chief executive, was in full support of a grant to fund the unit’s purchase.

“We want to be a resource for the community, especially in ways that [help] to ensure the health and well-being of our population,” he said in a statement. “Providing the funds to the La Cañada Community Center for an AED will allow staff, should the need ever arise, to provide the first line of emergency response — which can often make a significant difference in the ultimate outcome of a patient.”

A former first-aid instructor who’s had to perform CPR twice, Bond used the device’s arrival as an opportunity to train all center employees to efficiently respond in a crisis. Now, all regular staff members are certified in CPR and in use of the AED, and officials are hoping to reach out to more program instructors and volunteers.

Summer intern and La Cañada High School rising senior Kelly Steele used her time at the center, provided through the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce’s internship program, to help create a comprehensive emergency response plan. And last week the center held a successful fire drill, and has more evacuation scenarios planned for the future, according to Bond.

“We’re about enriching lives and having a good time, but we also want to make sure we can save lives, if we get in that position,” she said. “Now, I feel comfortable we have something we can to do help besides just calling 911.”

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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