The automatic external defibrillator is a simple device that can be used by nonprofessional rescuers to treat cardiac arrest. In 1287 consecutive patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, we assessed the results of initial treatment with this device by firefighters who arrived first at the scene, as compared with the results of standard defibrillation administered by paramedics who arrived slightly after the firefighters. Of 276 patients who were initially treated by firefighters using the automatic defibrillator, 84 (30 percent) survived to hospital discharge (expected rate according to a logistic model, 17 percent; P less than 0.001), as compared with 44 (19 percent) of 228 patients when fire-fighters delivered only basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the first defibrillation was performed after the arrival of the paramedic team. Few patients with conditions other than ventricular fibrillation survived. In a multivariate analysis of characteristics that influenced survival after ventricular fibrillation, a better survival rate was related to a witnessed collapse (odds ratio, 3.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.0 to 7.6), younger age (odds ratio, 1.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.0 to 1.4), the presence of "coarse" (higher-amplitude) fibrillation (odds ratio, 4.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 11.0), a shorter response time for paramedics (odds ratio, 1.4; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.0 to 2.1), and initial treatment by firefighters using an automatic external defibrillator (odds ratio, 1.8; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 2.9). These findings support the widespread use of the automatic external defibrillator as an important part of the treatment of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, although the overall impact of the use of this device on community survival rates is still uncertain.