Defibrillators to be replaced

ALPENA — The Alpena County Board of Commissioners voted to replace four monitor defibrillator units that are currently being utilized in city ambulances, which service Alpena County. The cost will be about $100,000 and will be taken from fund balance of the ambulance fund.

The units that monitor heart rates can act as a pacemaker have been recalled by Phillips, but the company says the battery system on the defibrillators could fail unexpectedly and there is no way to fix them. Phillips also is not paying for replacement or issuing refunds for the 47,000 units being used around the world.

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush told the Alpena County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that he has received notice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advising the recalled defibrillators not be used, except in training. He said replacement and reliable units are needed because he doesn’t want to see one fail while it is being used on a patient.

“This one piece of equipment is really the cornerstone of being able to provide advanced life support care,” Forbush said. “It could just power down at any point and not power up again right in the middle of dealing with a patient, that is not ideal.”

Forbush said he expects there to be some type of class action suit against Phillips, but there isn’t one right now. He said when one begins, he will lead the county through the process and help to receive damages if any are awarded.

Commissioner Cam Habermehl said the county likes to leave about $600,000 in fund balance and after taking $100,000 to pay for the new units, there still will be more than $500,000. He said in order to ensure the best public safety possible the new units should be ordered as soon as possible.

“I don’t think we really have a choice,” he said. “The fund balance will still be in the vicinity of where we want it, so I think we are still good.”

The city provides ambulance services that is made possible via millage. Forbush said looking forward there shouldn’t be any other high-priced purchases that aren’t already planned. He said the fund balance is there to help cover unexpected emergency expenditures or continue services should a future millage fail and a new one requested.

“We have to dip into fund balance further than what is comfortable. We think there is adequate funding to meet both objectives,” Forbush said.

The commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the purchase. Commissioners Nick Modrzynski and Bill Peterson were absent.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.