Batteries Dead in Defibrillator ; Man Dies Shortly After

By: Meagan O'Halloran Email
By: Meagan O'Halloran Email

Automatic External Defibrillators, better known as AED's, use electric shock to restore a patient's heartbeat.
Many first responders now carry portable battery-powered AED's for use at emergency scenes.

But some people are blaming one of the devices for playing a role in the death of a man in Walton County last week.

On Monday June 28th, 62 year old Kentucky resident John Hess entered the water in the Gulf behind Hidden Dunes Resort in Miramar Beach.

Surf conditions were rough and red flags were flying.

Sean Hughes of the South Walton Fire District says the waters were not safe for the public to swim in that day."Under red flags, knee-deep is too deep, so... certainly at the shoreline, but any deeper than that you run a serious risk of getting into trouble."

Hess did get into trouble.
He was pulled from the water at 1:20 in the afternoon.
Walton County Sheriff's deputies arrived on scene two minutes later, with the South Walton Fire District arriving six minutes after deputies.

By 2:00 John Hess was dead.

Before the fire district paramedics arrived, an off-duty doctor on the scene, asked one of the walton county deputies for an automatic external defibrillator, or a-e-d, to treat hess.

"We were made aware that they were asking for that and there wasn't one available" says Hughes.

Camile Cox,Public Information Officer for the Walton County Sheriff's Office says the AED was on scene but didn't have working batteries. She says the deputies on scene did all they could to find an alternative defribillator.

"They actually went to Hidden Dunes to see if there was one in their workout room, but his (the deputy's) just did not have a battery, a working battery. He had notified our AED coordinator. The battery was ordered and was replaced the very next day."

Sheriff's officials say they don't have any records of that particular AED's last inspection.

They are not checked daily because the batteries usually last four-to-five years.
"The AED by design is not necessarily supposed to be checked daily because it's long term, sitting idling, waiting for use. I can't speak to what their maintenance schedules are or how they're being maintained" Hughes says.

Back in 2005, The South Walton Fire District gave the Sheriff's Office thirty brand new defibrillators obtained through a grant, but the upkeep is the responsibility of the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff's officials say they ordered a battery for the AED in question before the incident because of a routine inspection

"We have a Lieutenant at the Sheriff's Office who monitors that equipment. They do an inspection once every three months" Cox says.
When asked when the last inspection was Cox stated "I'm not sure, but I know they do them periodically".

Even if the defibrillator was working, it's no guarantee Hess would have survived.

Hughes says there's no way to tell.

"Not every heart attack is a shockable rhythm. Shocking everyone?... If you're under the belief that's the course of action, it's not necessarily the course of action. It interprets it and if it's a shockable rhythm it will deliver a shock. It's all speculation in these set of circumstances. Would it have made a difference? I don't think anyone could say conclusively yes or no" Hughes says.

The Walton County Sheriff's Office says AED's are a luxury device for law enforcement officers, and that tight budgets prohibit them from ordering a supply of 'backup batteries'.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Rodney on Mar 3, 2012 at 10:31 AM
    I know this post is a couple of years old. I just ran accross it while searching the internet. I am a paramedic in WV, I also teach CPR, ACLS, PALS, PTLS and several other classes for the American Heart Association. It is sad that this incident occured, however as I was reading I saw a comment on the response time for the medics. I do not know anything about the area this ocurred but I do know one thing. EMS and law enforcement accross the nation is a very buisy occupation. Depending on the call volume on a given day greatly effects response times. Sometimes ambulances are tied up with other patients going to the ER. If ambulances are tied up 911 dispatchers will send an ambulance as fast as they can, as soon as one becomes available.
  • by Chief Benjamin Dovre Location: Madison WI on Dec 1, 2010 at 10:59 AM
    An associate just informed me that there is a free website to help us with managing our AED deployment so that we will not have dead battery issues or expired pads which could cause our AEDs to fail. The site sends email reminders on reminding us to inspect our pads, batteries etc. at intervals we determine. You will find this great resource at www.AEDreminders.com
  • by Doug Comstock Location: East Granby CT on Aug 18, 2010 at 05:40 PM
    As a certifed AED Specialist I can tell you that most devices do NOT audibly alert the aed owner if the battery is low on capacity. Those devices require a human to look at the device to assure that it is rescue ready. For that reason do NOT buy an AED that does not self-test on a daily basis the capacity of the battery. Make sure if the AED fails the capacity test that the aed emit an audible alert similar to that of a smoke detector which will chirp until you open the lid of the AED and the device will tell you the battery is low. Far to many people die yearly from AEDs that have batteries that are not charged simply because those assigned to the maintenance of the device simply overlook it.
  • by Sherri Location: Chattanooga on Jul 17, 2010 at 02:39 PM
    The emergency response was not in two minutes and then followed up in six minutes by the EMS. I was there and thought that the professional help would never arrive. Mr. Hess and family had help from beach goers and the chair vendor at Hidden Dunes but not from authorities until, in my opinion, much too late. Probably, by the time that the deputies and medics arrived, the AED would have done more harm than good. I do know that all of the bystanders that assisted did everything that they could to save Mr. Hess. There was not a person on the beach that afternoon that did not reach out and try to assist either with direct rescue of Mr. Hess or to be with his family. The battery issue should never have been an issue, as citizens we assume that the powers in charge are doing their jobs, I guess that is assuming too much. The red flag may save the county from liability this time, but rest assured when a person has a heart attack, the red flag can not be your excuse, it won't fly next time.
  • by Craig Location: Palm Beach County on Jul 9, 2010 at 12:48 AM
    As an attorney who specializes in these types of cases, it greatly saddens me to see this type of failure. All those who own AEDs must ensure that the devices are maintained, or it is a violation of Florida Statute 768.1325, which pertains specifically to AEDS. -Craig Goldenfarb, Esq.,
  • by Bobby Location: Walton County on Jul 7, 2010 at 07:27 PM
    What? The batteries in the AED were dead and sherrif Adkinson could not tell when the AED was last checked? No inspection records available? Wow, and we want him to takeover more county services? Wow! He needs 1st to get his own house in order, before taking on more responsibility like the state accredited county jail. Walton county needs responsible government, not a dictatorship taking on more than he can effectively chew. Good thing the battery was quickly replaced after the emergency. Lt, that was a fast cover-up, good job.
  • by Mike Location: MA on Jul 7, 2010 at 01:34 PM
    It's to bad that that the AED was not properly maintained. Checking batteries is the easiest maintenance yet the AED program manger was unable to do this simple task. I feel terrible for the family...........
  • by Demi Location: PCB on Jul 7, 2010 at 11:05 AM
    The point being, the man should not have been in the water..so sorry if this hurts someone's feeling! But let this be a lessened learned, change out batteries at the beginning of every new years or season, because for sure someone will sue the country for someone else's ignorance!
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