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Dad couldn't get defibrillator in bid to save son's life - due to no phone signal

PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:45 24 November 2019

Robert Waple, 45 from Brandon was unable to access the defibrillator at Hockwold village hall due to a lack of mobile phone signal. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Robert Waple, 45 from Brandon was unable to access the defibrillator at Hockwold village hall due to a lack of mobile phone signal. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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A father says he was devastated when he could not access a defibrillator as he tried to save his son's life - due to poor mobile phone signal.

13-year-old Jack Waple died after inhaling too much deodorant. His parents have warned other families about the potentially fatal misuse of aerosoles. Photo: Robert Waple13-year-old Jack Waple died after inhaling too much deodorant. His parents have warned other families about the potentially fatal misuse of aerosoles. Photo: Robert Waple

Robert Waple jumped in his car, in Hockwold, and dashed to the village hall to find a defibrillator to use on his son, 13-year-old Jack, who had been found unresponsive in his room.

But when Mr Waple arrived, with no phone signal, he could not get through to the emergency services to get the code to open the defibrillator cabinet.

Mr Waple said it was a "heartbreaking" moment and at that point the emergency services raced past to his ex-partner's home, but Jack died that night.

Five months on, Mr Waple wants to warn other rural communities which experience poor phone signal about the problems they may face when trying to access the life-saving piece of equipment.

Robert Waple, 45 from Brandon was unable to access the defibrillator at Hockwold village hall due to a lack of mobile phone signal. Picture: Neil DidsburyRobert Waple, 45 from Brandon was unable to access the defibrillator at Hockwold village hall due to a lack of mobile phone signal. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Mr Waple, from Brandon, said: "I wouldn't want any parent to have that feeling of not being able to access that one piece of equipment that could possibly save their child's life.

"I remember standing there shouting 'no, no, no, someone help me'.

"I saw the paramedic go past so I just jumped into my car. But it was just an overwhelming sense of hopelessness when there is a piece of equipment there but you can't physically get it to use it, for the simple reason of a mobile phone signal."

The defibrillator located at Hockwold's village hall was in a locked cabinet and to access it the user has to dial 999 to be given a code.

Robert and Susan Waple, with a picture of their son, Jack, who died in June, aged 13, after inhaling too much deodorant from an aerosol. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYRobert and Susan Waple, with a picture of their son, Jack, who died in June, aged 13, after inhaling too much deodorant from an aerosol. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

But the East of England Ambulance Service said that it is up to communities to make sure cabinet codes are available.

A spokesman said: "Defibrillators are essential life-saving equipment and should be accessible everywhere. Sadly, to ensure they are available and in good order, they need to be secured against theft, vandalism or tampering.

"This usually means code-protected cabinets, which are often owned by the local community, rather than the ambulance service.

"In many areas, in addition to being able to get the access code from our 999 emergency call centres, the codes are available where they are located - eg parish council staff, pub landlords, train station staff etc.

"However, this does present problems outside of working hours, and we are keen to work closely with communities to find other ways of making codes to their cabinets available."

Following this incident, the village hall committee has said it will discuss ways to make the defibrillator accessible in the future as it is an area known for poor phone services.

Tom FitzPatrick, Norfolk County Councillor and cabinet member for innovative transformation and performance, said: "The county council have worked to identify not-spots and we are working with phone companies to address them as best as possible. It is a problem we are trying to address across the county."

But a Norfolk woman who has been instrumental in raising money to install more than 150 defibrillators across the county has said rural communities with defibrillators should leave the code on the cabinet box.

Jayne Biggs, from Bradwell, set up the charity Heart 2 Heart in 2016 after a defibrillator saved her seven-year-old daughter's life. She said: "A defibrillator increases chance of survival by 70pc.

"In that panicked situation, especially in areas of poor signal, I think the code should be left on the box or left unlocked.

"It is very rare that they are stolen or vandalised and phone signal can be a problem in Norfolk so I always make sure, if it's a black spot area, this is considered."

Mr Waple added: "It's very important for all of the local rural communities are aware this situation may arise and to put measures in place so these life-saving pieces of equipment can be accessed.

"A lot of areas around here have poor mobile phone signal so it is going to be an issue. Awareness needs to be raised and hopefully by doing so some good will be made out of the tragedy of what happened to my family."

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