Knowing basic first aid as well as handy procedures for any emergency will never be a bad thing. If you don’t need these skills, great; but if you do, you’ll be grateful you took the time to learn them. Every single adult on this planet will have to deal with some type of emergency sooner or later. If calling for help isn’t an option you need to understand basic first aid and basic emergency preparedness.
The most important things to remember whenever you encounter any kind of an emergency would be 1. call for help if possible if you need it, 2. look around to ensure the scene is safe before you enter, 3. assess the person’s condition from a distance and 4. be sure and wear protective gear (such as gloves) so you stay safe yourself.
It is also important to get yourself trained to handle some of the most common emergencies that come up. First make sure you know how to take a person’s pulse; that is a basic must. After that you need to know how to treat for things like cuts, sprains, burns, heat exhaustion, hypothermia and an allergic reaction.
In this article we will go over all of this in detail. I will share with you these most crucial lifesaving skills to have for the most common emergencies. I promise by the time you’re done reading you will be better prepared to handle the next urgent situation that comes your way.
General Emergency Training Tips
First I am going to go over some specific tips or suggestions that are important remember for any emergency. These are things that will help protect both you and any sick or injured your are trying to help.
A Word On Calling For Help
The most important thing you can do when there is an emergency—whether medical or otherwise– is to call for help immediately. This should be the first thing you do in any of the situations described below. Not only will it set EMTs or police in motion to your location as soon as possible, but oftentimes the dispatcher can walk you through what to do in your emergency.
This article is written for the scenarios when you can’t call for help, so for this reason I strongly recommend continuing to read up on what to do if this is the case.
If you go through any type of wilderness first aid or wilderness first responder course (as I recommend all good preppers do) they’ll teach you a rhyme about how to approach someone who is injured. These principles apply to anyone and can be applied to any emergency situation, regardless of their level of medical training.
Ensure the Scene Is Safe
Remember to survey the scene for potential dangers before approaching someone. This advice is salient whether it’s a medical emergency you’re dealing with or some other kind of emergency.
Yes, I know in an emergency your adrenaline will be pumping and you’ll be tempted to run right over to the injured person—especially if it’s someone you care about. But resist this! Always makes sure there aren’t other dangers present before approaching.
It may seem like a cowardly piece of advice, but nothing would be worse for the victim than if you were suddenly rendered incapacitated as well. Being a real hero means keeping yourself in shape to help others.
For example, if the injured person is in the road you should make sure there aren’t other cars coming before you dash out. If the person has been attacked by another person or a dog, make sure the attacker is no longer present so that you’re not victim #2.
Another example of ensuring the scene is safe would be if you find someone passed out in a room where you smell gas or any other unusual odor. Remove the person from the room or house before you being rendering aid. You don’t know why the person is passed out and it could have to do with the unusual odor.
Assess the Injured Person’s Condition From a Distance
For number #2 you’ll be taught to say, “What happened to you?” The point of this tip is to get the ball rolling in your mind on how badly this person is hurt or how bad a situation is. Is the person sitting up and talking to a neighbor in complete sentences (ie, sentences not interrupted by labored breathing?). Or is this person unresponsive and laying in a pool of blood?
Quickly assessing how badly this person is hurt will help you reach out for advanced medical help sooner (if you haven’t done so already).
In non-medical emergency situations taking a beat to assess as you approach will also help keep you calm, which is an absolute necessity in any emergency.
Always Wear Personal Protective Equipment
#3 means “I don’t want it on me.” This step helps remind us to ALWAYS always always wear personal protective equipment. This can mean any type of protection you need to stay safe. In a bad wind storm, for example, this might mean putting on a helmet and eye protection to protect against flying debris.
This means latex or nitrile gloves, clear eye protection, and a surgical mask if you’re dealing with an injured person. It may seem like overkill to don all this gear, especially if you know someone. Heck, it might even offend some people if you feel like you need to suit up before you render aid, but never give in to the social discomfort of not protecting yourself. You NEVER know what types of serious illnesses those around you have and it always pays off to err on the side of caution.
Remember to Look For Other Sick or Injured
The number #4 step (the last step with a memory device) is to ask “Are there any more?” Meaning, are there any more patients? You may be busy helping someone out of a wrecked car only to notice 30 minutes later there’s a crumpled bicycle under the vehicle. Uh oh.
Be sure to completely survey your scene before you start giving aid to get a full picture of how many people are injured and to what extent they are injured.
In a non-medical situation this tip is still valid. “Are there any more…houses on fire? People in my group missing?” The point of this step is to take a step back and take a good look around.
Procedural Instructions For Dealing With Common Emergencies
Next I want to teach you how to deal with some of the most common specific emergencies you might encounter. This is not a complete list, however it will help you respond correctly to these common problems.
How To Take a Pulse
Much of how medical professionals assess how someone is doing is by knowing how hard their heart is working. You can partially gauge how hard their heart is working by taking their pulse.
To check a pulse place two fingers on your wrist on the thumb side between the bone and the tendon. You can feel both the bone and the tendon as they each feel, well, rigid.
The tricky part of taking a pulse is that you need to also have a watch with you with a second hand. Count the beats of the pulse for a full minute (or 30 seconds and then multiply your answer by 2).
The normal pulse range for adults is 60-100 beats/min. This number can go up with exercise or stress, but shouldn’t be over or under this number for long periods.
Check out this video for a visual guide on how to check a pulse.
How To Treat Cuts and Scrapes
Blood has many purposes in our bodies but one of the major ones is supplying oxygen to every single cell in our bodies. Both adults and children can sustain some blood loss without major consequences, but if enough blood is lost the body may go into shock.
Any time you’re dealing with blood it’s an especially good time to remember your protective equipment. There are a host of nasty bloodborne pathogens that can be passed from a victim to a rescuer. Remember it only takes one drop of contaminated blood to get you sick!
For minor cuts and scrapes you’ll want to:
- Clean the wound by irrigating it with water. By irrigating I mean using fast flowing fresh water to makes sure all the tiny foreign particles are out. If the water is out at your house puncture a plastic water bottle with something sharp, then squeeze the water out quickly to produce pressure.
- Apply pressure. Applying pressure helps the blood begin to clot.
- Apply an antibiotic
- Cover the injury with a clean, dry bandage.
For deeper wounds:
- Apply pressure first to control the bleeding and do not let go until it stops!
- Cover the area loosely (if the bleeding has stopped). The reason for a loose covering is that the wound will later need to be cleaned and you don’t want to press foreign material into the wound.
- Seek medical attention.
How To Treat A Sprain
A sprain occurs when your stretch or tear ligaments. Ligaments are tissue that connects bones together. The most common place to have a strain is your ankle. Mild sprains can usually be treated successfully at home. To treat a mild sprain:
- Rest the injured body part.
- Apply ice. Ice helps reduce inflammation and pain.
- Compress the injured body part. Wrapping a sprained ankle is both an art and a science. Print out a guide to ankle wrapping and keep it with your emergency prep kit. A well wrapped ankle is not as easy as you might think, but can make a huge difference to the injured person.
- Elevate the sprain above the heart if possible. For ankle injuries this will mean lying down.
Check out this video made by two physical therapists to learn more about wrapping ankles.
How To Treat a Burn
There are several degrees of burn and each level of burn requires a different type of care.
First degree burns: These are the least serious and most superficial burns. These burns are characterized by red, swollen skin. A sunburn is a typical type of first degree burn.
Second degree burns: This type of burn is characterized by blistering as well as swelling. The skin will be red and the blistering indicates that a deeper level of tissue has been burned.
Third degree burn: This is the worst type of burn and is characterized by either a completely white or sometimes a blackened and charred skin. In this instance the part that is completely burned may not hurt (although the surrounding tissue will lesser degree burns will hurt like the dickens), because the tissue is just totally dead.
This video is a little mechanical but does a good job of showing you what I’m talking about here.
To treat first and second degree burns you should:
- Stop the agent that is burning the skin (this can be tricky if it’s a chemical burn)
- Run the affected tissue under cool water
- Loosely cover any burned skin
- Treat any broken blisters with topical antiseptics (but do not intentionally pop any blisters)
- Apply salves like aloe vera
To treat third degree burns or second degree burns that cover large portions of the body:
- Cover loosely to protect it from bumping into other things.
- Seek advanced medical care immediately
How To Treat Heat Exhaustion
Note here that I said “heat exhaustion” and not “heat stroke.” There is a difference; heat exhaustion is the less severe version of heat stroke and you must be able to differentiate between the two in order to treat them properly.
Heat Exhaustion is Characterized By:
- Muscle cramps
- Heavy sweating
- Cool, Moist Skin
Heat Stroke is Characterized By:
- Confusion or odd behavior: This is a red flag symptom in anyone! Any type of altered mental status that cannot be explained should cause you to seek advanced medical care immediately.
- Absence of sweating: The lack of sweating in someone overheated is another big red flag. It means their body doesn’t even have enough moisture to sweat anymore, and therefore their natural methods of cooling off are failing them.
- Hot, dry skin: Notice that the heat exhausted person will likely have cool, moist skin.
If you suspect someone is past the point of heat exhaustion, seek medical treatment immediately. If they seem to be experiencing heat exhaustion you can do the following things:
- Remove the person from the hot environment: Don’t just sit in the shade. Move to a vehicle with the AC on if you can.
- Give the person water and encourage them to drink
- Help them lower their body temperature by getting them wet, or at a minimum giving them a cold compress.
This is a great video about heat stroke. It was made in Europe so obviously use the standard American 9-1-1 if you need to make an emergency call.
How To Treat Hypothermia
Hypothermia happens when your body loses more heat than it can produce and is the result of being exposed to cold temperatures. The human body is a delicate system and signs of mild hypothermia may set in if the body reaches 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Symptoms of hypothermia can include:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Shivering—shivering is good. It’s the way your body produces heat. The lack of shivering can indicate that your body is in advanced stages of hypothermia
- Confusion and/or drowsiness
Treatment for hypothermia includes:
- Removing any and all wet clothing and replacing it with dry, warm loose fitting clothing.
- Move the person to a warm environment.
- Rewarm the person gently. Do not place not elements directly against the skin. A hypothermic person often can’t feel their skin, and so a hot element may accidentally burn them and you wouldn’t know it.
- Give the person warm liquids if they are conscious, but do not give anything with caffeine or alcohol as this inhibits heat generation.
Never vigorously rub someone who you suspect of hypothermia. If they also have any form of frostbite, which happens when the skin is frozen, your rubbing can cause the ice crystals to tear through cells and damage their tissue further.
Additionally, do not submerge anyone in hot water or otherwise try to warm them up very quickly. When the heart goes from too cold to too hot quickly, it can go into arrest.
How To Treat An Allergic Reaction
Allergic reactions occur when your body overreacts to a non-threatening substance (like pollen or peanuts) as if it were something terrible. An allergic reaction can vary from a runny nose to a swollen throat that prevents them from breathing (this is called anaphylaxis).
The only type of allergic reaction that is a true emergency is anaphylaxis. The signs of anaphylaxis include:
- Hives (either all over their body or located in a specific spot)
- Trouble breathing (sometimes fast and shallow breathing)
- Clammy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling faint
This is a great video for more information about anaphylaxis.
- Try as much as possible to adopt a calm demeanor, and help calm the other person down. Not being able to breathe is very scary for the victim.
- Call 911 (if you can)
- Allow them to sit in whatever position is most comfortable and helps them breathe the best. They will usually choose to remain seated upright.
- If they have an EpiPen encourage them to use it. If they need assistance and they indicate to you that they need help using it, follow the instructions right on the side of the pen.
- An EpiPen is simply a syringe with a cap on it loaded with a strong antihistamine. The design of the pen is such that you merely take off the cap and jab the end of the pen into someone’s thigh.
- In a bad allergic reaction the EpiPen will only alleviate symptoms for a few minutes so the only thing you can do for them is get them to a hospital if the ambulance isn’t available.
Note on EpiPens: Never, ever hold an EpiPen with your thumb over the end. There are a million stories out there of a well-meaning bystander jabbing themselves in the thumb with the syringe end of the pen, thereby wasting the valuable medication and making themselves a second victim.