In a medical emergency, every minute matters.

Becca Stearns said seconds could mean the difference between life and death if someone is experiencing cardiac arrest.

“You can’t wait for an ambulance; it’s not going to get there soon enough. Even the fastest ambulance is not going to make it in time,” Stearns said.

She’s the chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute within the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.

Her team works inside UConn’s Gampel Pavilion researching, educating and raising awareness to optimize safety and prevent the sudden death of military members, laborers, and athletes, too.

“You have about one to three minutes to act to get that AED placed on the person and get that shock delivered,” she said.

It’s law in Connecticut for fitness centers to have AEDs, automated external defibrillators. But an NBC CT Responds investigation this summer revealed not all gyms were following the law, risking lives.

NBC CT Responds

This summer, Bob Barlow of Canton alerted our team when he reported his gym, Big Sky in Simsbury, didn’t have one.

He told NBC CT Responds in July, “I’d like to think that nothing is going to happen to me or them,” referring to his friends at the gym. “But you never know. It could,” he said.

After we started asking questions, Big Sky ordered and received AEDs at their five gyms across the state.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection confirmed this after checking in on the fitness centers following our August story.

But in the same month our story with Barlow aired, someone working out at Big Sky’s Newington location suffered a medical emergency and eventually needed an AED.

But based on police documents, 911 calls, and conversations with gym members and a first responder, there are questions about where Big Sky Newington’s AED may have been during that emergency.

A letter sent by the AED company Big Sky paid to Newington police on Aug. 9 said that an AED was put at the gym’s front desk.

But written on a police call summary report, paramedics responding to this medical emergency noted an “AED is not available.”

We asked Big Sky about where their AED was on that day and if an employee was trained to use it on the premises, but we haven’t heard back.

Mike Martone was at the gym that day and is identified in police records as someone who called 9-1-1.

“We were with her. Again, she was unconscious, I was rubbing her back,” he said.

NBC CT Responds Caitlin Burchill asked him, “According to this police report a defibrillator was not available, did you see one?”

He said, “I didn’t see one.”

In the aftermath of the chaos, he says he suggested to the gym to make an emergency plan.

“I think it would have been great if there was someone who  had some advanced training, who might have been there to access the situation, and perhaps even use an AED if it was necessary,” said Martone.

“Not only do you need the AED, but you need people trained in CPR and first aid and AED use, and you also need a plan,” Stearns said.

That’s part of Connecticut’s law. Along with mandated AEDs at each facility beginning in October of 2022, the legislation also includes that an AED must be at a “readily accessible location” known to employees.

And there must be an employee on site who is trained to use it.

“We know that when anyone is doing any sort of physical activity there’s an inherent, heightened risk in that moment there’s an acute heightened risk for a sudden cardiac event,” Stearns said.

As for that fateful day at Big Sky, a police report describes an officer responding to the scene and immediately setting up his AED and radioing to paramedics the severity of the situation.

Ultimately and tragically, this person’s life was not able to be saved.

“My heart goes out to the family,” said Martone.

This fall was the first time fitness centers had to self-attest that they had an AED to renew their license, perhaps encouraging owners to comply with the law.

CT DCP does not have a dedicated team in place to check in on compliance, so it continues to ask gym goers to help identify those violating the law.

But raising the red flag seems to have come at a cost for Barlow, who told us about the lack of an AED at his gym.

Since our original story aired, Big Sky chose not to renew his contract.The gym didn’t provide us a comment on this either or write in Barlow’s termination letter why it did so.

Barlow hopes his experience doesn’t deter others from speaking up.