Pennsylvania Turnpike puts defibrillators in all of its service plazas

| 4/22/2003

Say what you will about government types, but in Pennsylvania, transportation officials have plenty of heart.

The state's Turnpike Authority recently announced that it has installed automated external defibrillation (AED) units at all of its 21 service plazas and three administration offices statewide.

Under the program, personnel at each of the locations have been trained to use the devices, which can electrically correct a heart that is beating irregularly or restart one that has stopped beating due to cardiac arrest.

In many cases, the defibrillators can mean the difference between life and death. More than 600 Americans die due to cardiac arrest every day, the American Heart Association reports. Few live unless they are resuscitated in the first 10 minutes after an attack.

The devices have already saved at least one life, a man who stopped at the Allentown service plaza, according to a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer. And they could be very important for truckers who use the rest areas in the future.

While there are no scientific studies on how common heart problems are in truckers, John Siebert, project manager at the OOIDA Foundation, has been collecting information on the cause of truckers' deaths.

“Of all the reported deaths of members, heart attacks are by far the most numerous listed,” Siebert said. Of the truckers included in Siebert's informal survey, 37 percent died as a result of heart failure.

Whether greater use of the defibrillator units can change that figure is not known. But Pennsylvania's program does put a life-saving device that can be used by virtually anyone closer to thousands of truckers.

Joe Agnello, an employee of the Turnpike Authority who went through the AED training, said the machine is simple to use and includes voice prompts that direct people how to use the device.

“I went through the training; it's about four hours long,” Agnello said. “It is very easy, there's actually voice prompts on the thing that basically walk you right through it. Somebody could actually run it that had never run it before if you just remain calm and listen to what the voice prompt's telling you.”

“Many highway departments provide AED service to travelers through police and EMS,” Turnpike Executive Director Joseph G. Brimmeier said in a statement. “But as far as we know, we're the first transportation agency in the nation to install defibrillators and train personnel at all service plazas.”

Appropriately, the Turnpike Authority announced the first of the machines on a holiday with plenty of heart – Valentine's Day.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at