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A Controller Save to Remember

When a controller at New York TRACON experienced sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), his coworkers responded swiftly and appropriately, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using an automated external defibrillator until emergency medical services arrived 15 minutes later. By the time Emergency Services arrived, Neil O’Toole had a normal heartbeat and was breathing on his own. After eight days of intensive cardiac care and testing at a local medical center, he was discharged. His first stop on the way home was the TRACON to personally thank his rescuers.

CPR/AED Training Saves Life

Neil O’Toole suffered cardiac arrest in the facility’s computer room at 9:40 p.m. Fortunately Controller Mike Pitt was there and had been sitting next to Neil, having a conversation with him. A few minutes afterward, Pitt heard what he believed to be O’Toole snoring. But he wasn’t asleep. Pitt quickly figured that out when he tried to get his attention, but there was no response.

  • Pitt immediately called Front Line Manager Craig Edwards who notified Operations Manager Jeffrey Brooks. Traffic Management Supervisor Chris Leigh called Emergency Services. Brooks paged the facility for anyone with emergency medical training to respond, and went down to the computer room withTraffic Management Coordinator Terry Ryan, a volunteer firefighter professionally trained and certified in CPR/AED.
  • When they arrived, Pitt had O’Toole on his back and had already performed chest compressions. Ryan checked O’Toole for a pulse and didn’t feel one. He was unconscious and wasn’t breathing. Ryan got an AED from the cafeteria. Technical Operations specialist Robert Lynn and Controller Andrew Samour, another CPR/AED-trained and certified volunteer firefighter, arrived upon Brooks’ request. They both provided chest compressions and Samour also provided mouth-to-mouth ventilations. Ryan connected the AED to O’Toole. It activated twice to defibrillate his heart. Controller Josh Hagermann arrived and administered oxygen from his personal medic bag.
  • Paramedics arrived soon after, 15 minutes from the time of the call, to provide advanced care.

FAA Employees Receive CPR/AED Training


Left to right:­­ VP of Technical Operations Vaughn Turner, Senior Advisor Chris Rocheleau and Administrator Michael Huerta learn chest compressions during an FAA CPR/AED training class. (Photo: FAA)

"It’s a good thing we were trained because we knew what to do,” Samour said. “It’s good to have the FAA-supplied and maintained AEDs, but I’d like to see everyone in the building see how they work. Even if you saw it once, that could mean the difference between life and death."

Raising SCA Awareness

SCA is the leading cause of deaths nationwide and in the workplace. It claims the lives of over 350,000 individuals every year in the United States, and there is an average of one SCA incident every two minutes. To make matters worse, 70 percent of the time an AED is available during a cardiac arrest event, it’s not used. The national response rate to SCA events, where both bystander CPR and defibrillation are provided, is a dismal two percent. The FAA, however, has a 100 percent response rate to its 10 cardiac arrest events since the inception of the Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Program.

Despite the agency’s success in responding to these types of emergencies, Poliafico says many more employees need training for the agency to maintain its perfect score. The response to an incident at Louisville Tower, in which an engineer suffered SCA, was similar to the recent one at New York TRACON. The responder was a Technical Operations employee with 16 years of experience as a volunteer emergency medical technician for his local fire department.

"We’ve had some very lucky situations where the right people were there at the right time, but our philosophy is ‘luck is not a strategy for success,’" said Emergency University Director of Training Frank Poliafico. "To give everyone who needs it a second chance at life, the FAA has implemented a program that can provide a planned, organized and practiced response by all interested employees."

Poliafico is a registered nurse and former director of EMS in New York City who has led CPR and AED training for the FAA’s Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Program over the past six years. He presented the FAA’s "2nd Chance at Life" Commendation Award to each of the responders to acknowledge their successful actions.

"What you all did was perfect," Poliafico told the responders during a June 24 debriefing at the TRACON. "We’d like to see the same ‘response-ability’ at every FAA facility."

Statistics show that not taking action is the worst choice a bystander can make; a cardiac arrest victim's chance of survival drops 7 to 10 percent every minute CPR and defibrillation is not given to them; and at a minimum, it usually takes eight to 10 minutes for Emergency Services to be at the patient’s side with advanced medical care.

"In practicing for any emergency response, you have to know the procedures," said Tom Holloway, manager of the FAA’s Employee Safety and Health Services Team, which oversees the PAD Program. "The window of opportunity is extremely narrow."

Building Nationwide PAD Program

New York TRACON Front Line Manager Steve Ryan helped lead the push for AEDs throughout their facility and for facility-wide training in CPR and defibrillation. Nationwide, the FAA has equipped 171 facilities (with more than 50 employees at each) with wall-mounted AEDs and has provided a large number of System Support Centers with portable AEDs for use in the field. To date, there are nearly 1,400 AEDs in service throughout the agency.

Technology is also helping to improve emergency responses throughout the FAA. Emergency University’s EUAlert!™ smartphone app allows employees to quickly notify trained responders of an SCA event and tells them where to find the closest AEDs. It also aids in the coordination for calling Emergency Services and can be downloaded by all FAA employees in facilities covered by the PAD Program.

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