The webcomics blog about webcomics

Why I Ride

No pictures; I’m sure we’ll all muddle through somehow.

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to answer some questions I got on Twitter last night:

My roommates @beckyandfrank said I should ask you about First Aid classes, in the wake of what is currently happening in boston…

I find myself wanting to be able to help in some manner should I find myself in an emergency situation… I was looking at…

Red Cross classes, but I’m not really certain what the difference is between the certifications and ‘Lay Rescuers’ vs “Pro’…

Is there anything specific you’d recommend?

Gladly, Zach. For those that may have missed my copious references in the past, I hold an EMT certification and am a member of an EMT training faculty in my home state of New Jersey; these are related to the fact that I serve on my town’s volunteer Emergency Medical Service, which is why you’ll find me carrying an 911 pager and ambulance keys on Tuesday nights, every sixth weekend, and rotating holidays.

Before I get to Zach’s answer, I want to note that the emergency services in Boston did a superb job in the face of an act of disgraceful cowardice and evil. They were helped by a bunch of factors — being present on the scene already, having medical tents on-site and staffed, a plethora of bystanders eager to help. All that being said, I was astonished reading the Guardian’s minute-by-minute account of the attack, when they noted at 3:30pm (a mere 40 minutes after the bombs went off) that all victims had been cleared from the scene. That is a goddamn world record for a mass casualty incident¹ and I have never been so proud to wear the Star of Life as I was reading that.

So if, like Zach, you’ve decided to take something terrible as the prompt to try to do some good, what should you do?

First of all, none of what I do in my EMS career is rocket science — anybody can be taught, anybody can do it. The two things that everybody should know are some CPR and some First Aid. Both have a variety of classes associated with them, with reputable standard curricula by bodies such as the Red Cross and the American Heart Association. But which ones to take?

The heart (so to speak) of CPR is simple: air goes in and out, blood goes round and round. Keep that up, and you keep somebody alive. CPR courses are usual described as “civilian” or “lay rescuer” versus “healthcare provider” or “professional”; the difference is the former are intended for bystanders who observe a crisis by chance, and the latter for people in the formal healthcare chain who arrive with equipment.

As far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t be able to graduate junior high school, get a driver’s license, or have a kid without taking a lay rescuer CPR class (including infant/child CPR) at some time in your life — it’s that simple (two, three hours), and it should be that universal. Don’t worry about a pro-level class unless you’re going to be working in a healthcare setting or on an ambulance. Any level of training these days will teach you to work Automated External Defibrillators, which are pretty simple once you’ve practiced a few times.

The core of first aid is: um, the blood’s coming out, so it’s not going round and round anymore, and this guy seems to be in a lot of pain and getting worse — can we at least stop him getting worse until we can get him to somebody that know how to fix him? It’s where you learn to stop the bleeding and get people to lie still until we can immobilize ’em and transport ’em safely to a place of care.

There’s lots of courses ranging from super-basics (generally 5 – 10 hours for the Red Cross First Aid I and II) to First Responder (you can generally ride on an ambulance, under the supervision of EMTs) courses that take about 40 hours, to programs that will lead to a professional track (EMTs, depending on the state, will be in class 200 hours or more and can provide varying degrees of medications and trauma care; paramedics will be in school for two years and can do considerably more).

Having taken some classes (and they’re offered everywhere, check your local community center or Y), what else should you do?

First, regardless of your level of training, your primary obligation is to stay safe. No heroics, if it’s not safe for you to help, get to where you’re safe. As the helmet decorations tell us, you only have one ass to risk and your first duty is to get it home whole and safe.

So it’s safe to do so, what have you got to work with? Whenever I’m in a public place my eyes are scanning for emergency exits, aid stations, AEDs, call boxes and so forth. Lady clutches her chest in front of me and collapses, You go back by the bathrooms, find the box that says AED, bring back the contents, move. You call 911, tell them we’ve got an adult woman down, EMT on scene, now, and then I’ve got my gloves on² and I’m treating. Except for the “EMT” part, anybody can learn to do that.

Because I happen to know that Zach lives in Southern California, I hope he’s taken the time to put together a first aid kit as part of his earthquake preparedness; for that matter, I hope that everybody reading this that isn’t in an earthquake zone has done the same. My jump bag is full of various bandages, tape, a small flashlight, gloves, gloves, more gloves, a pair of cheap safety glasses, ice packs, sterile water, and suchlike³. You can put one together for US$30 or so and keep it stashed in your house or car against need.

If you have the time and inclination, there are Community Emergency Response Teams in nearly every locality of the country; they’ll train you to a First Responder standard, and you’ll be called upon to help in cases of disaster in the jobs that are low risk (rescue is dangerous business, you won’t get that in 40 hours of class) but vital: urban searches, transport of the lightly-injured, keeping people from unsafe zones.

If you want to help out on a more regular basis, volunteer EMS exists in most places, and even if you don’t think you want to ride on an ambulance, they still need help raising money, paying bills, keeping the station clean and operational — auxiliary members are the lifeblood of volunteer agencies.

Back to webcomics tomorrow. And the next time you bump into an EMT, paramedic, firefighter, or cop — the ones running towards the disaster, hoping like hell there isn’t another device waiting to take out the responders — do me a favor and thank them.

¹ Standard practice is triage alone will take 30 seconds per victim, times more than 140 victims, and must be completed before treatment and transport to definitive care.

² When I’m out, I’ve always got nitrile gloves stashed in a pocket or two. Without gloves, the situation isn’t safe and I will not proceed; remember — if it’s damp or gooey and didn’t come out of you, it’s potentially a disease-ridden death-vector and touching it with your bare skin is suicidal.

³ It’s also got more specialized equipment like a high-vis vest, extrication helmet & gloves, a bag-valve mask, artificial airways, BP cuff, stethoscope, and immobilization collars — things that you need special training to use, so let’s not worry about them for now.

Thanks Gary. I’m a 2 way radio tech from the mid-west. I changed my definition of hero when I started working with public safety in the 80’s. Again I say “Thank You” to you and all your fellow workers.
BTW- I like your writing too!

[…] all the horrible things going on in Boston. Fleen blogger Gary Tyrrell is also a trained EMT, and he gives some emergency basics in this post. Worth a read, and keep sending good thoughts out for a better, saner […]

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