If you go into cardiac arrest, every second counts. Each minute without cardiopulmonary resuscitation – CPR – or defibrillation reduces your chance of survival.

Do you know where your nearest defibrillator is? In the UK, emergency call centre staff can locate defibrillators in an emergency, and can advise callers what to do.

But in Ireland, there’s no central register. “We don’t even know how many defibrillators there are – between 2,000 and 10,000,” says Sean Peters, a firefighter and paramedic with the Dublin Fire Brigade.

“There’s no legal requirement to register them or make them publicly accessible. They cost €1,000, so they tend to lock them away, and we don’t know where they are.”

One answer was to crowdsource the info. “But that’s boring,” Peters (pictured above) says. “People don’t like boring, and there’s be no proof that it’s there or accessible.”

The answer? Save-a-Selfie, a map of defibrillators powered by an army of teenagers going on a virtual treasure hunt to take photos of themselves alongside the life-saving equipment.

The data will be available for emergency services to use, as well as through web and smartphone apps so the public know where their nearest defibrillators, first aid kits, life rings and fire hydrants are.

“Knowing the location of emergency equipment can make the difference between life and death,” Peters says.

“If a selfie spreads awareness of these devices, their smile could literally save a life.”

'Why don't we use selfies?'

The web app’s still under development, and is due for release at the end of 2014, while smartphone apps are being prepared.

It’s being worked on by a team from Code for Ireland – part of the worldwide Code for All project of volunteer coders, who work with local government to create problem-solving apps and tools.

The teenagers who’ll be taking the selfies are volunteers, too, with the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, a nationwide first aid service.

The original idea was put forward at Code for Ireland’s launch event in February 2014. Peters was sent to talk to them due to his interest in smartphone apps and their use in emergencies.

“I was advising on an app they were working on, and we were getting into groups and taking selfies, and then I thought ‘why don’t we use selfies?’,” he recalls.

“People don’t know where defibrillators are until it’s too late. So we can mobilise schoolkids. They can compete against other schools and clubs, which can win a defibrillator for getting the most selfies.

“We can prove the defibrillator’s accessible, is actually there, and the GPS record will tell you where it is.”

'Culture shift'

The link to the Order of Malta comes through Peters, who has volunteered with the group for 18 years.

“Dublin Fire Brigade only covers the capital city, while the Order of Malta will get boots on the ground everywhere – we’re guaranteed 4,000 pictures,” he says, adding that there’s a spin-off for the Order in that more people and firms will be aware of what it does. “We can walk into a company and say ‘30 kids have taken a picture of your defibrillator’.”

Having volunteers sharing the pictures on social media is a key part of the scheme, too, as they spread the word around family and friends. “80 per cent of CPR use is on a family member,” Peters adds.

Peters is full of praise for the Code for Ireland volunteers he’s worked with.

“It’s been a bit of a culture shift, but I can’t praise them highly enough,” he says. “Their world is very different. If I want to do something, I’ll be asked to do a report first. They’ll just get on and do it.

They’ve given up so much of their time.

“We can’t pay them – so once they’re done, we’ll train them up to be first responders. We can let them cut up a car or put out fires.

“Code for Ireland brought our two worlds together. I think this will work.”

For more details on Save-a-Selfie, visit the Code for Ireland website or follow @saveaselfie on Twitter.

Front page image: Dublin Ambulance D114 by Canadian Pacific, used under CC BY-NC 2.0.