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What began as an exciting moment (…we’re buying an AED!) has turned into a nightmare; countless brands, each in 3 freakin’ models, ranging anywhere in price from one to three thousand dollars.

Then you find a comparison website and think hallelujah, at last a quick and easy way. And the charts look so good with all their ticks and crosses… back to being excited!

But what do half of those things mean? What the hell’s asystoly sensitivity and why do I need it? Fully automatic? I thought they were all fully automatic? Do they come in a semi- auto? Sounds more lethal than lifesaving. What’s an energy level and what’s a IP value?

And is just me wondering how independent these sites are? Is there a sales commission lurking in the background somewhere?

Ahhhh!… I just want to buy an AED! The nightmare recommences.

The thing about AEDs is that they’re not really automatic, are they? They’re automated. They rely on a human to start it and place it on the casualty. And this can be the bit we don’t consider when we’re choosing an AED.

Regardless of how easy you think they are to operate, put a first responder in the thick of it and it’ll become difficult one way or another. And, we tend to be a bit scared of AEDs. After all, they electrocute people. The best way to get over this apprehension is to play with a training version and this is the aspect of AEDs that suppliers, manufacturers and websites aren’t doing a good job of.

Ideally a training version is almost identical, which comes with its own risks. Don’t think a double A battery can kill someone? Read this.

When I deliver high fidelity scenario training to organisations, if they don’t have a training version of their AED, I buy one. And I’ve discovered that not all AED training modules are created equal. In fact, some are downright horrible. If your trainer has strings for wires and pads that look more like pieces of duct tape then that just what you’re doing; training. Training and scenario training are worlds apart.

Scenario training is the ultimate testing ground. In the Red Zone with adrenaline flowing, maximum strength and minimum fine motor skills, your lifeguard can literally tear the AED apart at the seams and not notice. I’ve watched a lifeguard peel the adhesive lining off the pads and then wonder why they won’t stick to the casualty. Seems funny now, but this is the reality of a human in their Red Zone who probably hasn’t been given enough hands-on time with their AED.

In some training models, if the pads lose contact with the casualty’s chest then the machine recognises this and prompts the lifeguards to check the pads, just like in a real incident with a real AED. Other models, the horrible ones, don’t. They just carry on, prompting lifeguards to deliver the shock even if the pads have slide off onto the ground somewhere. Or worse, another lifeguard has has now picked them up, while lifeguard 2 is yelling CLEAR and pushing the button. It isn’t realistic and these models aren’t building skills adequately or increasing the professionalism of your lifeguards.

In my opinion, a good model can be set to run through different scenarios i.e. 1 shock, no shock, or no shock and then 2 shocks etc. A good one uses batteries you can buy at the corner store. If you’re about to start training only to find the AED’s flat you don’t want to be sitting around waiting for the thing to charge.

A good model has durable pads. AED pads get wet at a pool. If they get wet the first time and fall apart it makes for expensive training.

A good model has to be robust enough to take a few bumps and tumbles. Again, expensive training if on the first day your $800 plastic trainer splits in two bits on the ground. Which reminds me… the other thing I’ve learnt (the hard way) is the worse the machine is, often the more it costs. Don’t associate price with quality.

If you already own an AED buy the training version for your lifeguards. They’ll develop a fair level of understanding even if the training version isn’t ideal.

If you’re buying an AED, ask lots of questions. Ask for a demo. Make a quality realistic training version a primary consideration when making your decision to part with your cash.