When Lew Simon introduced himself to his new neighbors at a potluck when he moved to The Villages in March 2004, he also introduced life-saving opportunity for his neighborhood and many others. Simon designed and started the Neighbors Saving Neighbors program, which now places AEDs in nearly 200 neighborhoods in The Villages, along with thousands of CPR/AED trained residents and more than 400 AED devices in place among residential streets.
“He fought extremely hard to get this going,” said Lt. John Longacre, emergency resource specialist with The Villages Public Safety Department, who now oversees the program.
“A good word for him would be tenacious. Tenacious and passionate about having this in our community.”
The Village of Glenbrook resident talked to his neighbors at the 2004 potluck about the concept of getting AEDs on the street. He said once he got support from his neighbors on getting two, he moved on to creating something bigger.
Simon was the first person to get an AED in his condominium in Longboat Key, where he lived before moving to The Villages. He said that while living there, one of his neighbors went into cardiac arrest and he had no idea, so he couldn’t help.
That’s what made getting a pager system for his street in The Villages so essential.
“I went to the fire chief here at the time and explained I’d like to have my CPR- and AED-trained people tied into a pager system, so when dispatch gets an emergency call, we know,” he said.
Simon met with officials with the local EMS agency at the time to see about making his plan a reality. He said he had a feeling they would tell him if they did this for him, they would have to do it for other neighborhoods.
“And that’s exactly what they told me,” he said. “But eventually, someone with EMS said that we absolutely should be doing this for everyone.”
Simon and public safety officials worked to create the Neighbors Saving Neighbors program. He said after his neighborhood saved its first sudden cardiac arrest victim, the program took off.
“That really proved the system worked,” he said. “And that is what led to everything else. That save led to the word getting out and people helping us get this off the ground.”
The program started out using the pager system with beepers, but changed to ReadyAlert after Simon met its CEO and co-founder, Happy Rideout, at a conference in 2010.
ReadyAlert sends an alert to cellphones and home phones, letting the user know there is a cardiac emergency in the area.
Each trained responder with the neighborhood program has their phone linked with ReadyAlert.
“People said they were really liking the ReadyAlert because they were carting around their cell phone all the time anyway,” Rideout said. “Response times went down to about 90 seconds.”
ReadyAlert now covers between 16,000 and 18,000 homes in The Villages, according to Rideout.
“The saves are the most rewarding part of all the work,” Simon said. “It is all about saving people.”
The former financial consultant has been involved with fire safety for decades, serving as a trustee of the fire protection district in 1982 Barrington, Illinois.
He shifted his focus to AEDs after one saved his father’s life.
“The AED is what brought him back, and he lived another four years,” Simon said.
Simon no longer teaches CPR, but still works to get the word out about the importance of the program.
“I still make presentations on the program when I can and whenever I’m asked to go,” he said. “I’ve traveled to Las Vegas, Denver, North Carolina and all over the state of Florida to make these presentations to other communities.”
Simon also spends his time working on four state committees — the Florida EMS Advisory Council, the Florida Fire Sprinkler Coalition, the Florida Fire and Emergency Incident Information System Technical Advisory Panel and the Florida State Firefighters Employment, Standards and Training Council.
Simon encourages every neighborhood to consider the program. Though the cost and responsibility can seem daunting, he said, it’s all well worth saving a life.
“The cost may seem large at first, but after breaking it up between homes it’s pretty minimal,” he said.
His neighborhood also uses the money from the 50/50 chance drawing at its monthly potluck to go toward the program.
“How much is it worth if there’s a chance you could save a neighbor’s life or they could save your life?” he said. “CPR buys time, but an AED buys a life.”
Mackenzie Raetz is an associate managing editor with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5354, or firstname.lastname@example.org.