NEWBURYPORT — The City Council received a petition on Monday signed by more than 200 residents in support of installing an automated external defibrillator at Plum Island Point, but the city’s public safety leaders remain opposed to the idea.

Over the past year, Plum Island residents working with the Plum Island Foundation raised enough money to buy and install two automated external defibrillators and attached landline telephones – one at Plum Island Center in Newbury and another at Plum Island Point in Newburyport. The landline in Newbury connects to public safety dispatchers who would give a code to the caller which unlocks the defibrillator case so the device can be used in an emergency. 

The first AED was installed at Plum Island Center in March, but because Newburyport officials who originally supported the idea backed out, the Plum Island Point AED has not been installed.

While Mayor Donna Holaday originally expressed support for the idea, she eventually backed out, citing concerns from police Marshal Mark Murray and fire Chief Christopher LeClaire, both of whom have expressed concerns about the AED being improperly used by an untrained civilian, the possibility of vandalism and other complications that could come from having the device out on Plum Island.

The petition received by the City Council on Monday was accompanied by a letter from the project’s creators who questioned the city’s lack of enthusiasm about the gift of an AED.

“Gathering this evidence of support was an easy task; citizens were happy to sign and puzzled as to why the city would not happily accept this essential equipment at no cost to the budget,” said the letter.

Plum Island resident Peggy Poppe recalled her neighbor’s fatal heart attack in 2017 that sparked the idea for the AED project. She said that while some neighbors administered CPR inside her neighbor’s home, others waited “helpless” for 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

“The AED could arrive minutes before EMS, and in the event of a cardiac arrest, every minute increases chances of survival,” she said.

But despite the petition and comments from residents, LeClaire stood by his opinion against the project. On Tuesday, he said the idea of someone driving to Plum Island Point to fetch the AED and back to the scene of a cardiac arrest “is not realistic,” and also said people’s claims of the department’s 20-minute response times to Plum Island are “absolutely inaccurate.”

LeClaire called the project “a feel-good maneuver that would not have any benefit,” and said he feels it could shift bystanders’ attention away from making a timely 911 phone call.

“People going for a defibrillator would ultimately delay the 911 notification and be detrimental,” said LeClaire, noting that all of the city’s fire and police department vehicles already carry AEDs.

“We have enough defibrillators,” he said. 

Holaday said that while she empathizes with the concerns of Plum Island residents, she still worries about the potential liability of having an AED on the island and will continue to defer to LeClaire on the matter.

“I have real concerns about the safety and security of this,” she said.

The petition can be viewed beginning on page 31 of the City Council packet for Monday’s meeting: https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/sites/newburyportma/files/agendas/city_council_packet_06-10-19_final.pdf

For more on the installation of Newbury’s AED, visit: https://www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/newbury-residents-celebrate-aed-installation-on-plum-island/article_b5cd19ed-1246-5594-a3ce-e2ac797706c3.html 

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at @newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.