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Cornwall and District Fire Department installs public access phone, AED

The Cornwall and District Fire Department was winner of the 2019 Chris Cares AED Giveaway, presented by Chris Brothers/Bonte Foods. The life-saving device is available to the public 24/7 at the fire hall. - Julia Naas photo
The Cornwall and District Fire Department was winner of the 2019 Chris Cares AED Giveaway, presented by Chris Brothers/Bonte Foods. The life-saving device is available to the public 24/7 at the fire hall. - Julia Naas photo - Contributed

Because volunteer fire departments are often forced to stretch limited resources, they are masters at discovering and initiating cost-effective programs and services that benefit their communities.

About 15 years ago, Loran Demone, a firefighter with the Cornwall and District Fire Department, floated the idea of installing an emergency phone for use by the public on the exterior of the fire hall.

Although Demone’s idea was discussed casually from time to time over the years, no phone was installed. It took a spotty-at-best cell phone service in the immediate area to bring the idea to life. More on Demone, his phone idea, and a close encounter with the Grim Reaper later in this story.

February is recognized as Heart Month in Canada, a time to focus on the steps Canadians need to take to improve their heart health. More than 2.4 million Canadians are affected by heart disease.

And, according to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 45,000 men and women experience a sudden cardiac arrest each year in Canada.

Lives can be saved by an automated external defibrillator (AED) a device used to restart a person’s heart following cardiac arrest.

Chris Brothers/Bonté Foods created the annual Chris Cares AED Giveaway two years ago to honour two employees, Bill Wiseman and Paul Sivret, whose lives were saved by AEDs – Wiseman’s at a hockey rink, Sivret’s while at work.

During this year’s Heart Month, Bonnie Yates, a member of the Cornwall fire department’s auxiliary committee, applied to be the recipient of the 2019 AED giveaway.

In April, Yates learned her application on behalf of the fire department was successful, then she enthusiastically shared the good news with Fire Chief Michael Wilson.

“We were all pretty excited when Bonnie told us we had been selected. Because we rent out our hall and kitchen to various groups, we were in the process of acquiring an AED for use by the public. News of our selection certainly came at an opportune time,” said Wilson.

In late April, Wiseman visited the fire department and presented to Chief Wilson the $3,500 package, which consisted of an AED, wall mount, extra child and adult pads, and associated training.

Which brings the story back to Loran Demone.

Seven years ago, while volunteering at the canteen during the fire department’s annual garden party, Demone suffered a heart arrest and collapsed to the concrete floor.

Thankfully, many firefighters were on scene that day, including Brian Dimmell, who immediately started CPR. The fire department’s other medical first responders rotated in, and continued to perform CPR and utilize an AED from a fire truck until paramedics arrived.

Steve Patterson, who was fire chief at the time, said everything came together to ensure Demone’s survival.

“Loran had basically flat-lined. The first few minutes were critical, a life-and-death situation. Our guys were on Loran in seconds, and their training kicked in. That’s why he survived,” said Patterson.

“When Loran’s wife first saw him in hospital, he told her to go home, that he was fine,” he added.

Preventative measures

Loran Demone uses the outdoor public phone at the Cornwall and District Fire Department in Middle Cornwall. Demone is credited with being the first to suggest that the phone be installed for free use by the public for emergency, local and toll-free calls. There is limited cell coverage in the district protected by the rural fire department.  - Steve Patterson photo
Loran Demone uses the outdoor public phone at the Cornwall and District Fire Department in Middle Cornwall. Demone is credited with being the first to suggest that the phone be installed for free use by the public for emergency, local and toll-free calls. There is limited cell coverage in the district protected by the rural fire department. - Steve Patterson photo

Noting Demone’s heart arrest and recovery, and his idea of a public outdoor phone fresh in their minds, Wilson and his team wanted to ensure all members of the public – not just those renting fire hall facilities – had 24-hour access to the user-friendly AED.

They installed a touch-pad, keyless-entry system. The idea was that people can call the posted phone number to receive the access code, which, for security purposes, is changed after each use.

Problem is, cell coverage continues to be a thorny issue in the Cornwall fire department’s district.

“We live in a beautiful rural area, but cell coverage has always been a problem for us,” said Wilson.

Two years ago, Wilson’s department instituted a new paging system, which eliminates the department’s reliance on phone lines for paging in the event of an emergency.

“When power was out for days during hurricane Dorian, many fire departments had no emergency paging system, no phone lines and their communications suffered. We use a power-based system located on a tower. It has a battery backup so we can remain fully operational,” said Wilson.

“So, we had a paging phone line that we were no longer using, but we wanted to keep it as a back-up in the unlikely event something happened to the tower.”

This sign informs the public of the phone the Cornwall and District Fire Department is making available for free emergency, local and toll-free calls. The area has limited cell phone coverage.  - Steve Patterson photo
This sign informs the public of the phone the Cornwall and District Fire Department is making available for free emergency, local and toll-free calls. The area has limited cell phone coverage. - Steve Patterson photo

That line became the solution to the department’s other problem.

“In August, we decided to do something with the unused land line. We bought an inexpensive telephone, put it in a weather-proof aluminum-and-plexiglass box, included a phone directory and a list of useful phone numbers of people and places, and made it accessible to the public,” he added.

In addition to emergency situations, the phone can be used 24/7 by members of the public for any reason, including, say, by visitors who suddenly find out their cell phones don’t work in the area and they need directions to a friend’s lake cottage. The phone box is monitored by video surveillance.

“We know the phone is being used. At our garden party this year, we had people congratulating us, and some of them were area residents who said they used the phone instead of driving somewhere to access cell service. Loran has even used the phone he envisioned years ago,” said Wilson.

“And someone called me from the phone to enquire about joining our fire department. That person is now a member,” he added.

Chris Kennedy, fire services co-ordinator for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, and former Hebbville fire chief, said Cornwall’s public-use, land-line phone is an idea worth applauding.

“It just shows how volunteer fire departments can use ingenuity and imagination to come up with ideas to better serve their communities, especially in areas that are a little remote,” said Kennedy.

The Cornwall and District Fire Department is located at 2588 Cornwall Rd., Middle Cornwall, approximately 13 km north from Hwy. 103 Exit 11, Blockhouse.

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