Call to punish vandals who damage public defibrillators

Persistent damage to, and theft of, devices countrywide ‘could be death sentence for patient’

Recent vandalism against public defibrillators has led to calls for “strict penalties”, including imprisonment, for anyone involved in such attacks.

The Community First Responders (CFR Ireland) network said on Monday continued theft of and damage to defibrillators across the State could cost lives.

Listing recent incidents it said one device had been stolen from the Bus Éireann depot in Ballina, Co Mayo, and thermostatically controlled storage cabinets for them had been damaged in Blarney, Co Cork, Sallynoggin, Co Dublin, and in Carlow town.

While the damaged cabinets have been repaired in Blarney and Sallynoggin and a replacement defibrillator has been temporarily donated until a replacement is installed in Ballina, the Carlow unit is awaiting repair and the defibrillator is being held at the Dinn Rí hotel reception desk – taken out of 24-hour service.

Medical director of CFR Ireland David Menzies said damage to, or theft of, a defibrillator installed for public use "could be a death sentence for a patient if it were not available for a patient in cardiac arrest as a result. It is that serious."

The network reiterated its support for the Life Saving Equipment Bill introduced to the Seanad in 2018 by former senator and GP Keith Swanick. And CFR called for cross-party support to ensure its enactment this year.

The Bill proposes up to five years’ imprisonment and/or a €50,000 fine for anyone convicted of the theft of, or damage to, a defibrillator or life buoy.

Resuscitation and defibrillation

It was reintroduced in recent weeks by Dr Swanick's Fianna Fáil colleagues, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Diarmuid Wilson.

Community first responders, of which there are more than 250, are voluntary civilian responders trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation. They are part of a local CFR scheme and linked to the National Ambulance Service.

When the emergency services are alerted to a cardiac arrest, chest pain, choking or stroke, a civilian responder from the local CFR scheme is automatically despatched along with the ambulance service. CFRs often on motorbike, frequently arrive on scene quicker than their ambulance service colleagues.

Automatic external defibrillators – sometimes referred to as public access defibrillators – can be used by a lay person with little or no training to successfully restart the heart of a patient in cardiac arrest and cost upwards of €1,500.

Many publicly accessible units have been installed as a result of fundraising by local communities.