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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

Preparedness priorities: First aid, part I

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

This is a guest post from Will Kone, aka BusyPoorDad, whose bio appears at the end of the column. Though he is busy indeed, he has huge expertise in the areas of first aid and emergency management. He has agreed to write a series of articles on those and related topics. These will appear irregularly, as he has time and gets the inspiration to write them. BTW, I will be returning to the topic of water storage; just not sure when. Will’s post on what to have in a first-aid kit will appear later this week.


Where to learn first aid

The world is coming to an end! Now is the time to stand up and use all those supplies you have been hoarding for the last few decades. You grab that super-duper special forces field medical kit you paid several hundred dollars for, open it up and…holy fetch! what are half of these things and how do you use them? The guy on the ground before you has a cut on his leg, do you need that “QuickClot” pack? Or a tourniquet? Or a band aid? At that point, this is not the time to be opening up the Special Forces Emergency Medical guide.

It gets said over and over, all the tools in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them. The most important tool is your brain. Knowledge is power. Go-Joe!

But even though it gets said over and over, this is because people don’t remember it. Jack Spirko tells of a buddy of his that bought some high-speed field medical kit, he then asked his buddy, “You failed high school biology, what makes you think you can use this in an emergency?” We see this all the time. The guy who bought those twelve AR-15’s with all the add-ons and 5,000 rounds of ammo they lock up and never shoot. Or buys the solar oven but has never cooked a meal with out punching buttons on a microwave.

As with all efforts on prepping, you will start as a “noob” at some point. No one is born knowing how to give medical aid in an emergency. Accept that. Recognize that. Don’t feel weak or foolish about not knowing. In the EMS world there is “that guy” who knows everything yet has not taken any more training than First Responder. (we call him “Larry the First Responder”) Larry won’t admit to doing anything wrong or not knowing something. As you can bet, Larry hurts more than he helps. Don’t be Larry.

Before you spend your money on anything, you should make sure of two things. First, that you know how to use it. Second, that you need it more than something else.

Basic first aid is something you should learn, just like reading, writing, and swimming. I have responded to many 911 calls that we’re much worse because the caller or bystander did nothing. Before you learn how to insert an nasal pharyngeal air way, you should know how to treat a nose bleed.

First aid is the application of medical help to another person, immediately. It is the foundation of Emergency Response. This is something even small kids can do. So if you’re smarter than a fourth grader, you can, too.

The basic things you should be aware of, and know very well, are:

  • How to stop someone from choking
  • How to stop bleeding
  • How to breathe for someone
  • And how to stabilize an injury.

Being able to know when and how to do CPR, the signs of a stroke, recognizing and treating shock, and general illness care all build on the basic minimum for First Aid. Having a collection of trauma dressings and sucking chest wound patches won’t fix a person with a hot dog stuck in their throat.

To often people want to know how to do the exciting treatment they see on TV or read about. Yes, it is impressive to treat a tension pneumothorax with needle decompression. But you’re more likely to run across a small child choking on food or a toy. Believe me, the adrenaline rush is the same. Keep in mind how you would feel if you knew how to decompress a lung but could not find a pressure point to stop your best friend from bleeding. Sort of like the rocket scientist that can’t work a shower faucet.

This training is often low cost or even free. The classic places to get this training are the YMCA, the Red Cross, and the Boy Scouts. Often they will run classes in conjunction with a CPR program. Considering that more people die from sudden cardiac events than from traumatic injury, taking this training is a good foundation to create.

If you live in a big city you are going to have an easier time finding classes already scheduled. It’s is true with most things. Call your local Red Cross or YMCA. (Look in the Yellow Pages.) You also may find your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is also running classes as part of their mission to prepare the community for disaster response. Sometimes there are groups that run classes because of that “is there” thing. Many of these groups will happily run a class at your location if you get enough others to join you. (I’ve been in groups as small as three).

Since we who are into “prepping” are very aware that the more others are ready for a disaster, the less likely they will be to try to mooch off us, we tend to build communities. We join churches, rod and gun clubs, CSA’s, fraternal organizations, knitting and reloading societies, and such. No one is going to think you’re nuts for asking if people would like to learn first aid and CPR. Often the group has a place the training can happen, and it is already a place the members are comfortable in.

In the rural areas, you don’t have as many resources, but you make up for it with longer distances to the hospital. Even more reason to learn the basics. Here the local community is the more willing to help you. You likely have a volunteer fire and rescue department, a great source of training directly with the same people who will show up when you call for help. By training you, their job gets easier. The Red Cross has branches in most counties in the US, and your county likely has a CERT also. (Note from Claire: Even my area, with a total population of less than 5,000, has an active local Red Cross.)

The rural public library is a source also, they are often presenting programs to fill the needs of the community that big cities leave to others. The rural library becomes the elder care resource center, the youth center, community help center, and internet hub. If they don’t offer classes, they might put one together if you ask. The local churches also may offer training or have someone who teaches it to the Boy Scouts for their merit badges. Being nice with your neighbors pays off with this.

There are online programs and books you can use. Depending on how well you do with retaining knowledge from reading these can get you the basics. But having an instructor on hand to give you feedback and correct mistakes is hard to overrate. That Special Forces Medical Manual is nice,* but do you think an SF medic runs over to a wounded soldier and opens the manual to follow the instructions? No, he has practiced over and over. He may still look up things, but he has had lots of hands on training with people there to help make sure he is doing it right.

The main reason people have told me they did nothing to help someone was they did not know what to do and did not want to make things worse. The fear that they would do the wrong thing, even though the right thing seems intuitive, paralyzes them. They stand there and watch the other person and hope rescue comes soon. Having that wizz-bang medi-kit you have never used or know how to use can put you in the same state.


* (Added by Claire: Also handy are the The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook and American Medical Association Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care.)


“Who am I? Why am I here?” The immortal words of admiral Stockdale are best answered like this: I’m William V Kone, a First Sergeant, Paramedic, Emergency Manager, and a “Busy Poor Dad.” I’m 23 years into the Army Reserves, currently the interim Company Commander of an HHC for an Engineer Battalion. I work for an Ambulance Company and have been with EMS since 1997, and with Fire Service since 1996. I have been with rural districts in upstate New York, a Suburban district in Maryland, and currently work the City of Cleveland and Cleveland Metro area. I also work with the Emergency Management Agency in the small city I live in, have a BSc in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, level 1 Continuity Of Operations Planning certification, and am working towards my CEM.

But most important, I’m the father of three and the loving husband of the world’s greatest lady.

19 Responses to “Preparedness priorities: First aid, part I”

  1. Kent McManigal Says:

    I really need to do this. I have to overcome a lack of interest- which I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t I want to know the steps necessary to save a life? Part of it could be that I detest being around anything that smells like “authority” or any of the places where that sort congregates, but that can’t be all of it. The past week where I spent a LOT of hours in various hospitals and such (I’m not the sick one)- and the coming week that will provide even more of this sort of miserable thing- drives that aversion home to me. But that’s a weak excuse.

  2. Bear Says:

    “The fear that they would do the wrong thing, even though the right thing seems intuitive, paralyzes them.”

    That matches my experience, to a point. That point being: liability. Based on discussions at and after accidents, a lot of people would say just that, plus “and I ain’t gonna get sued because some ambulance-chasing Monday morning quarterback convinces a jury of dumbasses that I wasn’t acting in good faith or that I was negligent. Good Samaritan law, my ass.”

    Frankly, in every case where I _could_ manage it, I always did my bit, then vanished without leaving any identifying info behind. Good Samaritan laws, my ass.

    Now, you might think that such concerns would fall by the wayside when TSHTF, but don’t bet on it. There are still lawsuits in the works from Katrina. And come the zombie apocalypse, those who think they’ve been wronged might decide they don’t even need that shyster and jury.

    Sorry. Feeling c/y/n/i/c/a/l/ realistic again.

  3. Claire Says:

    Kent — I hope your sick family members are out of there soon.

    I hear you on reluctance to learn first aid. When I was young, I didn’t learn because I was so squeamish. I’ve gotten over that now, but the two times I tried to take first aid classes the teachers were so laughably bad I quit (these weren’t Red Cross classes but community college classes where the main purpose was to give coaches something “legitimate” to do; they were a joke, really).

    Several years ago I took a class in first aid for dogs and cats — which was very good (taught by a vet under the sponsorship of the Red Cross). But then there’s that practice thing. You don’t do it, you forget …

  4. MamaLiberty Says:

    The one thing often not mentioned in these discussions is triage… knowing what you CAN and CANNOT do up front can help prevent a tragic waste of time and supplies/resources dealing with things you can’t really help… while many who could be helped suffer and may well die in the meantime.

    Nobody wants to contemplate having to make the horrible choice… but it must at least be addressed.

  5. Pat Says:

    Another thing not mentioned is how to differentiate a possible concussion – from irritability/anger, fear and worry, confusion or other dementia, or drug/alcohol influence – and how to handle it.

    Kent, my mother reacted like you in medical surroundings. She hated hospitals with a passion – the smells particularly got to her. (Her sister, her daughter, and a close cousin were all nurses; she threatened to disown us all. :-)) She never wanted to take CPR or First Aid for fear she would freeze up when it was needed, or worse (to her) become sick and overreactive herself during the emergency.

    Some medical stuff needs to be discussed here, but take care how it’s said. (Maybe more along the line of Joel’s “solar e-book”. No two emergencies are alike, even dealing with the same signs and symptoms; and no two patients will react the same, mentally or physically. As ML said, _triage is most important._ It’s also hardest to do for amateurs/noobies – there’s a tendency to react to the obvious, and miss the real problem.

    The problem with some people is, after getting instruction or information, they will try anything. Like skiers after the first two years – they’re the ones who have the most accidents, thinking they know how to ski well. A lot of cops fall into this category too, thinking they know all about medical care because they’ve answered a couple of calls. (And – sorry, not nice to say to you here – but I’ve seen some new EMTs who thought they knew it all after a few calls.)

  6. Claire Says:

    This is another area where it would be very easy to make things so complicated an ordinary person would shrug and say, “There’s no point; I can’t learn all that.” You medical professionals see this on a deeper level — but fortunately it’s a level that most of us aren’t going to face.

    This whole series is about basics & I think it needs to remain so for sanity’s sake — and for the sake of encouraging people to move ahead, rather than discouraging them from doing so.

    It’s true that “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” But I expect for most of us a little knowledge, coupled with the supplies to use that knowledge, is more likely to be a helpful thing in the kind of emergencies most of us might face.

  7. Pat Says:

    “This whole series is about basics & I think it needs to remain so for sanity’s sake — and for the sake of encouraging people to move ahead, rather than discouraging them from doing so.”

    I realized that even as I was writing my comment. Yet I felt compelled to say it, and then let the blog go where it will.

  8. Claire Says:

    Fair enough, Pat.

    I was thinking about your comment re recognizing the differences between dementia, drug problems, fear, etc. I think every cop anywhere ought to have that training. OTOH, I suspect that when an average Jo or Joe encounters somebody who’s agitated, in almost every case they’re either a) going to know exactly what’s going on because they already know the person and the person’s problems/habits or b) if they see that behavior in a stranger they’re not going to have to make too many decisions about it — except to back away, defend themselves, or just try to calm somebody down. They aren’t going to be responsible for treating the condition, whatever it may be.

  9. BusyPoorDad Says:

    The nice thing about getting a basic level of training is that when you are presented with a situation, you have some idea what to do and what not to do. When you stick to what you’re taught, you really don’t have to worry about being sued for causing more harm.

    Lets be honest, in this day and age, you are just as likely to be sued for NOT doing something. (It would not win, but it would still cost you)

    The training is important, and as Ms. Claire posted, some times the instructors suck. They need to be walked out on and reported to higher and find a better instructor who will treat with the importance it needs.

    By starting with the first aid level, CPR type classes, you don’t have to fear getting overwhelmed. That is as long as you don’t get overwhelmed by simple things like taking a drivers test, setting up a Facebook account, or working a lawnmower. These are simple, basic classes with low amounts of medical jargon. They get reviewed every year to find the best way to teach them so that 95% of the population can do the tasks. (from the very young to the very not young and all levels of education)

    Do i think that everyone should be as skilled as a Paramedic? Sure, in a perfect world we would all get that level of training. But in the real world, that would be a real waste of talent and effort. My goal is to help a person starting out see that they don’t “NEED” to become a Special Forces Medic to be prepared for a disaster. Or the much more likely event of a medical emergency that involved a family member.

    One of the things I’m working on now is for the beginners out there. It takes a basic Emergency Management system called “The All Hazards Approach”. The idea that there are a common set of issues that happen with all hazards that can be mitigated or responded to with a “generic” set of tools.

    I might even add more about “Larry the First Responder” type people alluded to by Pat.

  10. LarryA Says:

    “It gets said over and over, all the tools in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them. The most important tool is your brain. Knowledge is power.”

    Amen, amen, and amen.

    (NOT Larry the First Responder) ;-)

  11. Hanza Says:

    One of my brothers just retired from a hospital after 35 years as an emergency room tech. His wife is an emergency room nurse. They would be good to have around if/when the SHTF.

    Unfortunately they aren’t preppers at any level.

    Side note: Reading about Navy SEALs medical training I found out that when they learn how to administer IVs they actually do the needle stick in the vein and run the IV. Not simulated.

  12. glenn allen Says:

    I recommend a good wilderness first responder or wilderness EMT course which has different protocols due to longer PT contact than EMS and first aid courses. Covers treatment for disease, trauma and wound care in the back country. NOLS WMI is great.

  13. Karen Says:

    Thanks so much, BusyPoorDad, for taking the time to share your experience and knowledge with us. I’m looking forward to your series of articles.

    Stuff happens, or has the potential to happen, every normal day. It’s not just about prepping for TEOTWAWKI. A simple cut today, with simple solutions today, could easily turn deadly in a SHTFscenario. Sadly, first aid isn’t glamorous like looking into a pantry stocked to the ceiling with food or a gun safe loaded to overflowing with weapons. At least here at Claire’s you’ll have a receptive audience for your efforts.

  14. Matt, another Says:

    Thanks for the reminding us the importance of learning first aid and adding to those basic skills as time goes on. I’ve noticed the trend lately on many of the “prepper” sites is to expound on the medical training that every one needs and needs right now. Most of them include what would be months of training learning symptoms, treating them, surgical procedures etc. Kind of like putting a steel roof on a house to collect water.

    Where I live there is very seldom any training for “free.” So, I started looking for training close by (100) miles. Didn’t find any free there either. So, I’ll put money aside for a wilderness first aid course and in the meantime learn basic techniques through personal research and practice. I am also slowly learning what I can about herbal and natural medicines.

  15. Pat Says:

    BPDad, have you thought about making this into an e-booklet (such as Claire’s “Rats!”)?

    OT: In fact, I’m thinking several e-booklets could be written on various subjects that relate to the care and feeding of freedom survivalists. Gun Care. Defense of the Home. Privacy in the City. Bugging Out-Bugging In. Intranet Communications. Protecting Your Indentity. How To Barter Quietly and Successfully. All the subjects discussed in Living Freedom, put into easy-to-read booklets, reachable as easily as flash drive, Kindle or iPhone. Just the basics, which anyone can learn from – and which might wake up a few non-independents to what is going on, and how to handle themselves in the real world. A very real opportunity to do some educating without seeming to emphasize philosophy. (The Gran’pa Jack booklets come to mind, but these booklets wouldn’t have to be comic-book style.)

  16. Laird Says:

    Actually, I was thinking that this whole series could usefully be packaged into an ebook.

  17. Bonnie Says:

    I’ve learned an awful lot simply by having an accident-prone family. I watch the nurses & doctors to see how they deal with various wounds. Usually, they love to explain things if you ask. And I keep our teatnus shots up-to-date. I also had some training as a nurses aid many (many) years ago. Wish hadn’t quit the program. I also volunteer with a spay/neuter clinic. We see a number of health problems in the cats that can translate into human examples. As a plus, our vets are wonderful about explaining things. I

    I keep a variety of first aid books on the shelf & read them every once in a while to keep the knowledge fresh in my mind.

    Pat – I love the idea about the booklets, especially the subject of succesful bartering. Most the times when we’ve bartered, we seem to end up with less than we started. I don’t know if we’re just suckers or if there are tips that would help us.

    God bless,
    Opportunity Farm

  18. Pat Says:

    There are a number of books on bartering out there – this is one that I will be ordering soon:

  19. Kent McManigal Says:

    This summer I actually had an experience where first aid training would have helped. Don’t fall off a park bench… I was thinking about this as I read the post.

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