How You Could Save a Life at Your Facility
Friday, July 19, 2013

It’s been a long battle for NATCA to get Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) into air traffic facilities. Now, NATCA members need to take advantage of the training to know how to use these life-saving devices.

Twelve years ago, the FAA required installation of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) - a device that assists victims in Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) by restoring a normal heartbeat through the application of a brief shock - in aircraft, but not in air traffic facilities. Many members fought long and hard to get the FAA to this, and unfortunately the Agency’s delay came at a very steep price.

In 2006, Houston Center controller John Sanfelippo was on duty when he suffered SCA. There was no AED in the building. A supervisor called 911 and controllers immediately started CPR. Thirteen minutes after Sanfelippo collapsed, the EMTs arrived. While they were able to reestablish a heartbeat using an AED, those 13 minutes caused too much brain damage and he later died. Had an AED been in the facility, he might have survived; the chances of surviving a SCA decrease 10 percent for every minute between the onset of the attack and the application of an AED. If there is not an AED available, the chances of death are 95 percent.

On Sept. 26, 2008, after a long fight by NATCA and PASS, the FAA agreed to put AEDs in facilities with more than 50 employees. Three years ago, the FAA’s Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Program was launched in those facilities. Funding is continuously being sought for facilities that have 10 or more full-time employees, but that has not come to fruition yet. 

NATCA OSHA Committee Chairman Mike Odryna (ZBW) says that since PAD has been rolled out, AEDs have been used four times. Two instances were unsuccessful, as both people had passed away before they were found. One man, a 50-year old commercial airline pilot, collapsed in a hangar, but luckily two flight standards inspectors, who had been trained in the PAD program, did CPR and used an AED. The pilot survived and was able to see his daughter born five months later. Another person survived for three days after having an AED used on him after he collapsed. He had a preexisting condition, in which he only had 40 percent use of his heart, but because of the AED, he was able to see his family one last time.

“If a person collapses from SCA, chances of survival with CPR are six to eight percent,” says Odryna. “If you use CPR with an AED, the survival rate increases to 65 percent.”

To date, over 1,100 new AED devices have been placed at the 180 participating FAA facilities/sites throughout the U.S., and over 11,000 FAA employees have volunteered for CPR/AED training. However, the recent training participating numbers by air traffic controllers are alarmingly low.

Emergency University Program Manager Frank Poliafico says the national OSHECCOM set goal is to train at least 15 to 20 percent of the workforce at each participating facility across the country, but that at most of the participating towers, TRACONs and Centers that percentage has largely been met by the number of Tech-Ops personnel who have been trained. The participation of Air Traffic personnel has been minimal.

The training is free, simple and doesn’t take long. It consists of one, 45-minute online training session, online at, followed by a 1-1.5 hour-long hands-on training class in the facility led by a certified CPR/AED instructor. After you complete the online training, contact your facility’s PAD point of contact (POC). He or she will tell the date of the next scheduled training class. You can use duty time for the online training session and for the class.

While it is not easy to be released from the operational count to take the training, the lack of participation indicates a lack of interest by bargaining unit members, rather than operational need restrictions. As a result, there are at least 15 facilities with no AEDs in service simply because no one is trained on the device.

Odryna says that more people need to take advantage of the training because the more people trained, the more chance the AED will get used - data shows less than one percent of those trained will respond to a situation. 

“Of the four times the AEDs were used, it was used 100 percent correctly,” he says. “One time when the paramedics showed up, they said they didn’t have to do anything because everything the employees had done was by the book.”

Odryna continued to explain that AEDs are extremely easy to use - the devices are voice activated and prompt users where to place the paddles and when to shock the person. Poliafico added that while AEDs are easy to use, experience shows that training and preparation are definitely required to develop and maintain the confidence and comfort needed to respond effectively to what is likely to be one of the most daunting emotional events anyone is likely to ever face. 

If nothing else, Odryna says people should at least be aware of where of the AED location in their facility so they can locate it quickly, if needed.

In one of the most stressful professions in the world, air traffic controllers are at a higher risk of SCA. The NATCA family takes care of each other in many other non-lifesaving ways, so take care of each other this way too. Training could mean saving a life. It means someone at your facility could save your life.