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The 911 on First Aid Situations 
by Jami Cameron July 20, 2005

You never know when you will be faced with an emergency situation – but are you prepared to react appropriately? The following article outlines a few emergencies you may come up against, and how to handle them the right way.

Every day, thousands of men, women and children are faced with an emergency that can cause serious damage or even death. And many are unaware how to handle the situation in order to minimize injury or prevent fatalities.

Educating yourself about how to handle emergency situations is the best tool for survival – either your own or someone else’s. Taking a few moments to learn about how to take appropriate emergency measures now can increase your emergency IQ, as well as ensure you did everything you could when faced with a crisis.

What deems a situation an emergency?

An emergency is a situation where something is unusual, which can lead to the harm of a person or group of people– either something looks different than normal, smells wrong, sounds odd, appears out of place or maybe even a person is acting abnormal.

Here are some more common emergency situations involving people:

  • Someone is screaming or yelling
  • Someone has lost consciousness
  • Someone is giving off body language that says they are hurt (clutching chest, leg, etc.)
  • Someone can’t talk and looks panicked
  • Someone is bleeding

And some emergency situations involving environment:

  • Something smells funny (gas leak, chemicals, etc.)
  • You hear an explosion
  • You see fire
  • You hear screaming
  • You hear tires screeching, glass breaking or a crashing noise

It can be easier to recognize an emergency in some instances, while others may take a little observation. For instance, driving upon a car accident can immediately click in your brain as an emergency, but actually realizing that a person is disoriented or uncomfortable may take a little more observation.

Whatever the case, once you are sure you have an emergency on your hands, you have to act quickly. But before you jump in head first, follow these simple rules provided by the American Red Cross:

Check – the first thing you must do in an emergency is check the scene and the victim(s). Note everything about it that makes it an emergency - figure out how many victims there are, note their medical state (are they conscious, bleeding, etc.), and look around the environment to see if any other potential harm could happen to them or yourself. Also note if there are any other witnesses that can help you during this time.

Call – the next thing to do in an emergency situation is to call 911. Either have yourself or another person make the call. Let them know the emergency, how many victims and their physical/mental state.

Care – once 911 has been called and the scene is secure, help the victim(s). If there is more than one victim, always begin helping the one who is in the worst state – unconscious, not breathing, etc. If someone is conscious – can cry, walk around or let you know where they are injured, they can be cared for after those who are less fortunate.

Before providing care, protect yourself

Unfortunately in today’s world, you are faced with some difficult issues when providing much needed care during an emergency. There are two things you should do to protect yourself – get consent to help a victim and protect yourself from disease transmission.

Before helping a victim, you should always receive consent. This not only protects you from a possible lawsuit, but helps the victim understand what you are doing.

According to the American Red Cross, to get consent, you must:

  • State your name
  • Tell the victim you are trained in first aid
  • Ask if you can help
  • Tell them what you think is wrong
  • Tell them how you plan on helping them

If they do not want your help, and explicitly state this, than call 911 and observe the victim.

If the victim is unconscious, then consent is implied, meaning they would probably agree to care if they were conscious. This is outlined in Good Samaritan laws – which can vary from state to state.

Another issue when helping in an emergency situation is disease transmission. Blood and body fluids of another person can be potentially fatal if they have a highly transmissible disease like AIDS. In order to avoid this, you should always protect yourself. When packing a first aid kit to travel with, make sure you include a breathing barrier (which can be purchased from your local American Red Cross or in the first aid section of almost any store) and disposable gloves.

After treating someone, always wash your hands immediately after with soap and warm water.

Giving treatment in emergency situations

Now that you have an understanding about how to react in emergency situations and how to protect yourself, here are specific ways to treat different emergencies. But remember, before you can treat a victim - or victims - in an emergency situation, always use the check, call, care method.


If you come upon an emergency situation where someone is wounded, there are a few things you should do:

  • Check, call, care
  • Cover the wounded area with clean gauze or a sterile dressing – if a first aid kit isn’t available, you can use washcloths, towels or other absorbent materials
  • Knot the bandage directly over the wound to apply direct pressure
  • Have the victim, if able, or yourself apply direct pressure to the wound – enough pressure to control the bleeding, but not so tight that it cuts off circulation
  • If the wound continues bleeding before help arrives, elevate the wound above the heart if you can safely move the victim in that position (do not do this if a bone appears to be broken or it causes too much pain for the victim)
  • If the wound is still bleeding, find a pressure point closest to the wound and squeeze to the bone
  • Never use a tourniquet – direct pressure, elevation and pressure points can control almost any emergency bleeding situation. Only trained medical professionals should decide when a tourniquet is needed

Head, neck or back injuries

When a victim is faced with a head, neck or back injury, it is very important to give them the appropriate care very carefully:

  • First - check, call, care
  • Immobilize the head, neck or back – do this by either placing both of your hands on either side of the head and support it – do not move the victim
  • Keep the airway open
  • Continuously check consciousness
  • Stay with the victim until help arrives


In order to treat a burn, follow these steps:

  • Check, call, care - note - only call emergency personnel if the burn or burns appear major or life threatening or there are others who received burns - otherwise, treat and get the victim to a medical facility
  • Flush the burn with cool water
  • Cover the burn with sterile gauze or dressing in order to prevent infection
  • Call 911 if the burn is severe

When treating a burn, never:

  • Place ointment on a burn – it may seal in the heat and cause the person to continue to burn. Butter and household ointments should be avoided at all costs
  • Use ice or ice water on a burn unless it is very small (a burn on the tip of a finger). It can rob the body of heat (which can cause shock) or even make the burn worse
  • Remove clothing that may be sticking to a burn. This can cause even more damage to the burn area
  • Touch the burn - only sterile bandages or dressings should touch the burn in order to prevent infection


Shock can happen to anyone in an emergency situation, and can be life threatening. You can tell if someone is in shock if:

  • They are irritable, restless or their consciousness seems altered
  • They appear pale
  • Their skin is cool to the touch
  • Their pulse is racing
  • Their breathing is rapid
  • They are nauseous or vomiting
  • they have a blue hue at their fingers or lips

If you think someone is in shock, provide the following treatment:

  • Check, call, care
  • Monitor their breathing
  • Control bleeding, if any
  • Help the victim from becoming too chilled or overheated (blankets, air conditioning, etc.)
  • Do not give them food or drink
  • Keep them talking – this helps you evaluate their mental and physical state
  • Wait with them until help arrives

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

During the summer months, many people can easily be harmed by the heat. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can debilitate a person or even cause death. Learn the signs and how to treat someone suffering from heat related injuries:

Heat exhaustion signs

  • Skin cool to the touch, moist, flushed, pale or ashen
  • Headache, nausea, dizziness
  • Weakness

Heat stroke signs

  • Consciousness changes (going from being fully aware to listless, lethargic or unconscious)
  • Skin hot to the touch, but may be moist or dry
  • Rapid or weak pulse
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • High body temperature

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, help them by:

  • Moving the victim to a cooler environment
  • Fan the victim or place them in a room with circulating air while dousing with a cool, moist sponge or rag
  • Give them water in small amounts if conscious
  • If the victim doesn’t improve, call 911 immediately and stay with them until help arrives


If you see someone choking, but they are still conscious, take action by:

  • Stand behind the person and position your hands (find the belly button, make a fist, thumb side against the middle of the person’s abdomen, just above the belly button)*
  • Interlock your other hand on the fisted hand and give rapid, upward thrusts
  • Continue thrusts until the object is dislodged

*If faced with a choking child, kneel down on one leg and place that leg between the child’s feet for support

If they are unconscious and choking, follow these tips:

  • Give two rescue breaths to make sure the airway is obstructed (you can tell by watching if the chest rises up and down with each breath)
  • If breaths don’t go in, give 15 chest compressions (place the heel of your hand on the notch where the ribs meet the breastbone, place the other hand on top of the hand on the notch and lock your elbows, then compress the chest, going down about 2 inches in depth) *
  • Then, open the victim’s mouth to check for a foreign object – lift the jaw upward while holding the tongue – carefully sweep the foreign object out of the person’s mouth with your finger
  • Give two more rescue breaths to ensure the obstruction has been cleared, if not, continue until the foreign object is removed or until help arrives

*If you are faced with a child who is unconsciously choking, give 5 chest compressions using one hand, going down only 1 ½ inches in depth

Don’t provide care unless you are able

It is important to help those in emergency situations, but never provide care unless you are sure it will help the victim. The above information is correct and adequate to give a person some basic knowledge in how to react in various emergencies, but it in no way is meant for training purposes. In order to provide the best care possible and completely understand all first aid emergencies, you should enroll in first aid training.


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