The Massapequa inventor of an innovative anti-choking device, the LifeVac, has made his first sale to a fire department.
The Jericho Fire Department has purchased 21 of the devices, designed to suction foreign objects from the throats of choking victims when conventional procedures such as the abdominal thrusts of the Heimlich maneuver don't work.
"We're not replacing those things," said the inventor and manufacturer, Arthur Lih. "We're saying, 'After those procedures are followed, use LifeVac.' " Lih, 50, is a former airfreight company owner who sold his business at Kennedy Airport in 2012 and invented LifeVac in his garage.
He said the device represents an investment of almost $300,000 and that his company, LifeVac LLC of Farmingdale, has sold almost 600 of the devices since they went on sale in August last year. They're manufactured in Brentwood and retail for $69.
Lih said he's sold units locally to about 100 households, the Lutheran Middle and High School in Glen Head, the Academy Of Medical Technology in Far Rockaway and some restaurants.
One police department has purchased the device, that of Sarasota, Florida, which bought 100 units in March. A spokeswoman for the department said they're being placed into service now that all officers have been trained to use it. "It's one more tool our officers can have in their toolbox," she said.
Lih's isn't the only vacuum device available to first responders, but Lih claims it is the only one designed specifically to suction a hard foreign object. Other devices routinely carried by first responders are primarily for suctioning blood and other fluids, he said.
Chief John Lottes of the Jericho Fire Department, who also is director of operations at Lutheran Middle and High School, says he believes that to be true.
"It's simple in concept," Lottes said of the LifeVac. "I believe it's something anybody can figure out how to use very quickly."
The device is not, however, recommended for use on children under 40 pounds.
Somewhat enthusiastic about LifeVac was Dr. Craig Alan Manifold, a committee chairman with the American College of Emergency Physicians in Irving, Texas, and an emergency room doctor of osteopathy at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "It's a very innovative product that uses the science of physics, so that's very exciting," he said. But he stopped short of recommending it. "I would want to see additional research to determine its safety," he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the product is registered with the agency, but pre-sale approval by the agency is not needed "because it is considered a low-risk device."
Lih, born and raised in Massapequa, said he was motivated to invent the LifeVac by the number of choking victims each year: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says that in 2013, the most recent year for which it has figures, 1,177 people died from choking on food, and another 3,368 died from choking on other materials and objects. In an average year there are 37,425 emergency room visits nationally for choking, according to the CDC.
Lottes, whose department purchased the units last month, said, "Use it once successfully to save one life, and it's a home run."