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DEATH BARES COUNTY FLAW IN UPKEEP OF DEFIBRILLATOR

Heart-shocking defibrillators only save lives when they work.

The unexpected death of an Erie County employee in the Rath County Office Building on Monday served as a wake-up call to county officials, who discovered their expensive life-saving device wouldn't have worked had they had a chance to use it.

Co-workers expressed concern Monday morning when employee James Pieczynski said he felt faint and ill.

The 69-year-old Springbrook resident worked for years in Erie County's Department of Environment and Planning as a tax biller for the Division of Sewerage Management, county officials said.

His wife had lost a battle with cancer six weeks ago. The couple had been married nearly 40 years and had no children.

"After she died, he wasn't the same person," said John Orlando, a union official who had known Pieczynski for years.

Pieczynski collapsed at his desk about 11:20 a.m.

Co-workers immediately contacted the Sheriff's Department, which maintains an office and portable defibrillator on the third floor of the Rath Building, one floor above where Pieczynski worked.

The emergency call indicated that Pieczynski was suffering from a diabetic reaction, according to Administrative Chief Brian Doyle and county spokesman Tim Clark.

When deputies arrived, however, they saw a City of Tonawanda police officer performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and called for the office defibrillator.

By the time it arrived, however, the Buffalo Fire Department was on the scene, using its own defibrillator on Pieczynski. Fire officials said they were on the scene two minutes after they received the 911 call from the Sheriff's Department.

Had they not arrived with their own defibrillator, however, the Sheriff's Department's equipment would apparently have been useless.

"The battery needed to be replaced and was today," Doyle said.

Clark added that the machine is supposed to send out a signal if its battery is low, but failed to do so in this case.

As a result, officials said, all of the county's defibrillators will be checked to make sure they are in working order. The Sheriff's Department keeps one defibrillator in the Rath Building and also has one in each of the City and County Court buildings.

Portable defibrillators have gained popularity in recent years and are increasingly common to find in public buildings. But the machine's effectiveness is heavily dependent on how quickly it is used.

According to medical studies, a person's chance of being revived with a shock to the heart drops by roughly 10 percent for every minute that passes. Witnesses said between two and four minutes passed until the Fire Department responded.

Both Clark and Doyle noted that Pieczynski received CPR right away. It's not clear whether any efforts to save him, beyond what was already done, would have been successful, they said.

Pieczynski's funeral is being held at 9:30 a.m. today in St. Anthony of Padua Church in Buffalo.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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