Being prepared is half the battle.
Your toddler falls at the playground and cuts his leg. A stranger collapses in the grocery store when you’re shopping. You’re working in the yard and are stung by an insect.
Would you know what to do in these scenarios?
Even if you call 911, you should be prepared—with both knowledge and supplies—so you can offer help until emergency personnel arrive.
“Many cuts, insect bites/stings can be managed with first aid at home very effectively, but when it comes to medical emergencies, we recommend calling 911,” says Tim Carver of Ocala Fire Rescue, who has been a firefighter/paramedic since 2004. “There’s no charge for us to come, and it’s always better to have us come and end up not needing us than try to tackle a situation on your own and find out you can’t handle it.”
Stock A First Aid Kit
Carver recommends keeping first aid kits in your vehicle, at home and at your place of work. You can buy a ready-made first aid kit or assemble one yourself. You can purchase elaborate kits, but here are the absolute basics:
- Non-latex medical exam gloves
- Medical adhesive wrap or elastic bandage
- Gauze pads (various sizes)
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Adhesive bandages (various sizes)
- Insect sting/burn ointment
- Antihistamine gel (to apply to insect bites/stings, poison ivy, etc.)
- Antibacterial ointment
- Blunt-tip scissors
- Fine-point tweezers
- Full-strength (325mg) aspirin
Most commercial kits don’t contain a tourniquet or aspirin, so you’ll have to add those. If you’re going to be in the woods, you’ll also want to add a foil blanket to your kit.
“Even in Florida, if someone is seriously injured and lying on the ground, we see cases of hypothermia, especially if they’ve been in the water,” says Carver.
Although you can buy wallet-sized first aid kits for your purse or backpack, Carver advises, if nothing else, to always have aspirin and your cell phone with you.
Include your basic medical history on your phone, as this is the first place emergency responders will check. On your contacts list, make an ICE (in case of emergency) listing, and include basics such as medication you take, blood type, last tetanus vaccination, etc.
“Hands down, the best skill anyone can have is knowing how to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if someone is unresponsive or not breathing,” says Carver, adding that 92 percent of the time Ocala Fire Rescue responds to a cardiac arrest call, a bystander has begun CPR, increasing the patient’s odds of survival.
He references a 2014 survey by the American Heart Association, which shows that adults who had cardiac arrest outside a hospital and received CPR from a bystander had a 31.7 percent survival rating, as compared to a 10.2 percent survival rating when nothing was done until EMS arrived on scene.
And in case you’re worried about doing mouth-to-mouth, that’s all changed. Now it’s just chest compressions, and here’s the best part: You can take a free class and learn how.
“The fire department offers at least one free class a month,” says Carver, “and if you have a group of six or more people, we’ll come anywhere in the city limits, bring the equipment and put you through the class. Kids take this up quickly; we regularly have groups of home schoolers come and take CPR classes.”
First Aid Scenarios
When it comes to first aid, the first step is making sure the injured person is safe and that whoever is trying to help stays safe. Then, you can provide care and gather information from the injured person to relay to emergency first responders.
Let’s look at some of the most common situations where you may need to offer first aid.
Injury With Bleeding
Step 1: Tell the person who is bleeding to put pressure on the wound and hand them material (gauze pads, clean towel, T-shirt, etc.) to press on top of the injury. If the person is unable to do this for themselves, you’ll need to help, but to prevent possible contamination from someone else’s blood, pull on the non-latex gloves from your first aid kit.
Step 2: Wrap a bandage tightly around the gauze or other fabric to put pressure on the wound, applying direct pressure for 3 to 5 minutes. If blood continues to soak through, call 911 and continue to apply pressure until help arrives. You may need to put additional gauze pads or fabric on top, but don’t remove the first layer. If bleeding is severe, you will need to apply a tourniquet.
Step 3 (if needed): Use the tourniquet from your kit, or if you don’t have one, improvise with a belt, handkerchief or similar item that is 1 to 2 inches wide. Tighten the tourniquet 2 to 4 inches above the wound or just below the next joint above the wound. (For example, if the wound was in the shin, apply the tourniquet just below the knee.)
Follow-Up: Don’t worry about cleaning the wound until after bleeding has stopped, but you’ll want to wash it as soon as possible to prevent infection. Soap and water are better than alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but you can use the sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. Seek medical attention promptly if you suspect stitches are needed. Apply antibacterial ointment to the clean wound and keep covered with a bandage until a scab forms.
Suspected Broken Bone
Step 1: Get the person to a hospital if possible. If not, call 911.
Step 2: Let the person stay in a position of comfort as much as possible until help arrives. Don’t move the injured limb.
Step 3: Immobilize the joint above and below the injured spot by using a splint (or anything rigid, such as a stick, rolled up magazine, etc.), and hold it in place with the elastic bandage or wrap from your kit. (For example, if the suspected break is to the forearm, you’d immobilize from wrist to elbow.)
Severe Insect Stings/Bites
Step 1: Call 911.
Step 2: Apply sting ointment. If bee sting, first use a credit card or driver’s license to scrape out the stinger.
Step 3: If the insect is still present, take a photo with your phone or put the bug in a sealed container so it can be identified; show it to emergency responders when they arrive. In the case of a spider or snake bite, anti-venom may be needed.
Step 1: Treat a bite as a cut, wash it thoroughly, apply antiseptic ointment and bandage.
Step 2: Seek medical attention because you may need stitches or staples, and the doctor will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics.
Unresponsive Or Not Breathing
Step 1: Call 911.
Step 2: If in a public place, ask for an automated external defibrillator (AED), which is a computerized medical device that can check a person’s heart rhythm and recognize when a shock is needed.
Step 3: Start chest compression CPR and continue until emergency help arrives.
Step 1: Call 911.
Step 2: Assess the person and gather information to provide to first responders. If the person is conscious, ask about their medical history, including any medications they may be taking.
“We always ask how long it’s been since the person last appeared normal, because we only have six hours to treat someone and reverse the damage once symptoms have appeared. In some cases, a person can have no deficits afterward if they are treated promptly enough,” says Carver. “Someone may feel ‘funny’ and just go to bed, but if they’re still feeling that way in the morning, 12 hours will have elapsed and even when they’re taken to the hospital, treatment options are limited. Don’t wait to get help if you even suspect a stroke.”
Assess stroke symptoms using the acronym FAST:
Face: Is it drooping or numb? Is their smile uneven or lopsided?
Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one feel weak, numb or drift downward?
Speech: Is their speech slurred, hard to understand or not making sense?
Time: Don’t delay. Call 911!
Step 1: Call 911.
Step 2: Take an adult dose (325 mg) of regular aspirin while waiting for first responders to arrive.
“The most common medical emergency we are called to is chest pain,” says Carver. “Our 911 call takers are trained to first ask if that person has an allergy to aspirin or a recent history of stomach or intestinal bleeding. If the answer to both of these is ‘no,’ they are told to take an adult dose of aspirin. The sooner aspirin is taken there’s an increase in survival and positive patient outcome.”
To learn about free CPR classes, call Ocala Fire Rescue at (352) 629- 8306. You can also take a basic first aid course online. At press time, the Red Cross course was just $25 and takes less than two hours. For information, visit redcross.org.