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Posted on November 20, 2012

San Luis Obispo County: Placement of Life-saving Devices Honors Beloved Fire Chief

By Tracy Correa

A defibrillator was donated to KSBY on Nov. 1. Pictured left to right are: Steve Leiberman, Emergency Medical Services, Inc.; Natalie Schaefer, PG&E; Sharon Counts, American Red Cross; Kathleen Choal, KSBY; Doug Jackobsen, Cardiac Science; Dr. Paul Georghiou, Sierra Vista Medical Center; Lynne Callahan, John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project (holding plaque on right); John Forsberg, Cal Fire, Penny Borenstein, SLO County Public Health Dept.

A community effort to place automated external defibrillators throughout San Luis Obispo County, in memory of a beloved fire chief, has finally become a reality.

In recent weeks, three portable defibrillators, often called AEDs, were placed in downtown San Luis Obispo and a fourth will be placed soon. The effort is part of the John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project, named after the San Luis Obispo County fire chief who died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest two years ago.

And an effort to buy more of the life-saving devices has gotten off to a big start following a $12,500 donation from PG&E – a grant that kicked off a community challenge. So, far additional $15,000 has been pledged.

Lynne Callahan, the fire chief’s widow, was on hand to see one of the defibrillators placed in the visitor center at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce on Thursday (Nov. 8). Also in attendance, were city and county officials, as well as representatives from the chamber and PG&E.

‘Phenomenal’ community support

“There are no words to say how phenomenal the community has been in supporting this effort,” Lynne Callahan said on Friday. “Because of the generosity of PG&E and the community, I am placing an order today for seven more AEDs.”

San Luis Obispo County Fire Chief John Callahan died unexpectedly in 2010. His death sparked an effort to place automated external defibrillators in locations throughout San Luis Obispo County.

She said the effort is a great tribute to her husband.

John Callahan, 61, died after collapsing during a softball game with city employees. He was only months from retiring. A  story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune described a memorial service where hundreds filled the Performance Arts Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Lynne Callahan said she doesn’t know if an AED would have made a difference for her husband, but she knows they do save lives. “This was a dream that John had… he wanted to get AEDs out in the community.”

The American Heart Association describes automated external defibrillators as a lightweight, portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock can stop an irregular rhythm and allow a normal rhythm to resume in a heart in sudden cardiac arrest. It is estimated that early access to the device could save 40,000 lives per year in the U.S. alone.

But the path to getting the portable units out into San Luis Obispo community hasn’t been easy. Even though four of the devices were donated by two local hospitals following the fire chief’s death, liability concerns prevented them from being placed in downtown businesses.

Placed throughout the community

The defibrillators ended up being donated to the local chapter of American Red Cross where Natalie Schaefer worked at the time; Schaefer now works as a community relations representative for PG&E. Lynne Callahan credits Schaefer, who also serves as committee member for the John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project, with helping to see the defibrillator placement and fund drive through.

The AED G3 Pro by Cardiac Science units were purchased – with help from PG&E — by the John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project.

With oversight and liability requirements met, the defibrillators are now being placed.

In addition to the San Luis Chamber of Commerce’s downtown center, defibrillators were recently placed at KSBY-TV and Tartaglia Realty. A fourth unit will be placed at the Avila Lighthouse soon.

Lynne Callahan said she is hoping to have a total of 16 defibrillators donated to local businesses by next year. “For me, this is a wonderful legacy in John’s memory.”

The San Luis Obispo City Firemen’s Charity Ball on Feb. 16 will benefit the John W. Callahan Heart Safe Project so that it can buy more defibrillators.

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