Reversing an earlier decision that had raised an outcry from parents, Smithtown officials have allowed a Kings Park sports group to install a defibrillator at a town park.
Town officials last month had declined Kings Park Youth's offer to donate an automated external defibrillator -- or AED -- on the grounds that the town could be sued if the device were stolen or damaged due to vandalism or neglect.
But after discussions between town officials and Kings Park Youth leaders -- who said they need an AED to treat children injured in the chest during games -- the town board voted Thursday to accept the donation.
"I pray that we'll never have to use these," Kings Park Youth trustee John McQuaid told the board after the vote, "but I can assure you that a lot of parents will sleep easier."
McQuaid said the AED would be installed at Kings Park Memorial Park, where the group sponsors sports leagues for more than 1,000 children.
Town officials said an existing AED policy would be amended to allow private groups to keep defibrillators at town facilities. Kings Park Youth also agreed to sign a statement absolving the town from legal liability for damage to the device.
"I'm more confident now, as far as liability for the taxpayers," said Councilman Edward Wehrheim, who had opposed the donation. "There are many stories about how . . . [AEDs] have saved lives."
In an interview, McQuaid said he assured town officials that coaches would be trained to operate the device, which he said would cost $1,200 to $1,500. The group has more than 100 coaches, he said.
Wehrheim and town attorney John Zollo acknowledged they faced community pressure to change their stance. Zollo said the controversy led him to reconsider his concerns, and he concluded that the town is equally likely to be sued for not having a defibrillator at a town park.
"AEDs are becoming widely accepted. Ten years ago, they weren't as sophisticated as they are now," Zollo said. "The benefit to the public far exceeds the [legal] risk to the town."
There are about 30 defibrillators in town buildings, vehicles and rescue boats, but none in town parks, said town public safety director John Valentine. He said his department would train coaches to use them.
"It should be another asset to the Smithtown community to have another one of these AEDs out there," he said.