Warning: Some images or videos in this article may be disturbing to some readers.

It’s a beautiful summer day and you’re driving down the highway on your way home from work. You’ve been behind a vehicle for a few miles now and are too busy jamming to the radio to recognize that its left front tire is wobbling wildly. In between the chorus and the bridge of your favorite song, a wheel flies past your window and you wonder where it came from. Then you realize that it probably came from the vehicle that just went headfirst into the ditch that makes up the median. You count yourself lucky for barely missing danger and pull over to check on the driver of the crashed car. While running up to the vehicle, you’ve already alerted 911 of the crash and other vehicles stop as well. Upon reaching the driver’s door, the barely conscious driver pulls themselves out onto the grass of the median and you take it all in. A compound fracture in the left leg where the dashboard met the tibia.  Multiple lacerations on the face and arms from glass that isn’t supposed to shatter. A broken thumb from holding the steering wheel with a closed fist and the list goes on. This person is in bad shape but alive because of an airbag and seatbelt. While the other bystanders look on in horror, you sprint back to your vehicle and open the trunk to trade your blazer and tie for the first aid kit that you’d never though you’d use. What you do not realize is that because you are prepared, you have the tools to save this person’s life. 

This is not something that happens every day and because it doesn’t, a first aid kit (FAK) is all too often overlooked. The uses for a FAK are not confined to vehicular wrecks, though. A FAK can be useful in active shooter situations, sports events, hiking, hunting or any activity or event where injury is possible. In reality, it’s useful pretty much everywhere. So why don’t more people carry medical supplies? I believe it’s because we live in a day and age where we are so dependent on emergency services. While it’s definitely a good thing to let the professionals handle any medical emergency, these personnel cannot be everywhere at once. They are human like you and I and have to take time to travel to the emergency. In a serious situation, the 3 minutes it takes for an ambulance to scream down the road is enough time for the heart to pump all 5 liters of blood out a severed Brachial Artery. The difference between life and death for a victim could easily be dependent on if someone nearby has medical training and the tools to temporarily treat any wounds. So how can you stack the odds in life’s favor?

Victims of the Paris terror attacks Photo: thetimes.co.uk

Begin by researching how the body works and all of the weakest points. The information is out there and easy to find. All the supplies in the world will do no good if you don’t know how to use them so education is paramount. If you know how the body works and how the medical supplies work, you can even improvise and created supplies out of clothing or other materials. 

Using these pressure points, you can halt blood flow to wounded parts of the body. Photo: Buzzle.com

Beginning with the basics of how the human body works, we all know that the body requires an oxygen supply and blood flow to operate. This escalates airflow and bleeding control to the top priority for medical emergencies. In an emergency situation, 4 to 5 minutes without air can result in brain damage or death while it only takes 1 to 3 minutes for all the blood to escape a major vein or artery. Upon reaching a casualty, we must first check for any major bleeding. If heavy bleeding is discovered, determine what type of bleeding it is. A simple way to remember is “arteries pump, veins dump.” Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart and lungs so the blood is bright red due to being rich in oxygen and will spurt with each heartbeat. Veins, on the other hand, have blood that is on it’s way back to the heart and may be darker in color with a more steady oozing stream. Venous bleeding is easier to stop than arterial bleeding due to an overall lower pressure. Depending on the type of bleeding, direct pressure on the wound or pressure points is the simplest way to stop it. This technique will normally stop venous bleeding but arterial bleeding has a higher pressure and will sometimes find its way through direct pressure. If direct pressure does not stop the blood flow, this is where it would be a good idea to use a tourniquet. I carry a R.A.T.S. Tourniquet threaded through my belt loops and it can be deployed in less than a second by pulling the metal clasp end outward. A lot of people freak out about tourniquets because they think it automatically means a loss of limb. This is not always the case but even if it did mean loss of limb, I don’t know about you, but I would rather lose an arm than die. A tourniquet is a specialized piece of equipment so I am unable to teach you how to use it through words but I can give you some resources here and here. I also recommend a hands-on class from a reputable instructor. While the tourniquet works for limbs, it is useless for the torso. This is where “QuikClot Combat Gauze” can be used. The gauze has a hemostatic agent that will clot blood flow upon contact. It’s as simple as packing neatly into the bleeding wound and holding pressure (Caution: linked video shows real application on hemorrhaging pig). This is especially useful for a gunshot wound. Once again, please do not let this be your only source of information, do your research on how to use these tools to control bleeding.

While fake, this is an accurate representation of arterial bleeding and spray. Arterial blood would be brighter red. Photo: Moulagesciences.com

A Boston Marathon victim is being helped by bystanders who are applying pressure. Photo: Boston Globe

If there is no major bleeding, the next priority is airway and breathing. Begin by feeling for a pulse to determine which course to take. If there is no pulse, CPR or a defibrillator is necessary. If they do have a pulse, it is important to “look, listen, and feel.” We look for the chest to rise and fall, we listen for breathing and we feel for exhalations from the mouth or nose. If the casualty is not breathing, the first option is to open their airway by one of two methods. If you don’t suspect a spinal injury, you may try the head tilt/chin lift technique. If there is a spinal injury, it is best to immobilize the head/neck and use the jaw thrust technique. Alternatively, a nasopharyngeal airway is an option that can be used in any situation, it just takes longer to prep and insert. I recommend following the links for each technique and learning more about it. Remember to do your research, one article will never tell you everything you need to know.

A Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) on the left and a Rapid Application Tourniquet Systems (RATS) on the right.

After the bleeding has been controlled and the airway has been opened and breathing is occurring, the victim has been stabilized and by this time, emergency crews should have been able to arrive on scene. You must now step back and be ready to provide medics with details on everything you did along with the condition you found the victim in. 

The above paragraphs are the most important things to know in order to save life and limb. Now that we have a basic knowledge on how the body works and how to perform emergency aid, we can decide on what supplies we may need to carry. Based on the above, the minimum would probably be a tourniquet and packet of combat gauze since the airway can be opened without supplies. It is these two items that I carry with me daily because between the two and my knowledge of first aid, I can at least help someone and keep them alive long enough for medics to arrive. Now, as I stated above, your environment will dictate what you carry. My trip to the store or anywhere where I don’t have a pack, I will carry the minimum I stated above. In my hiking backpack, I will carry almost a whole blowout kit because I have the ability to. In my vehicle, I have more space than on my person or in a pack so I am in the process of piecing together a larger comprehensive trauma kit for the Jeep. 

My FAK with a CAT mounted to the front

The FAK opened up to reveal the contents

My FAK will normally be found in any backpack I am carrying, whether it’s on a hike or around town. The first thing needed is a pouch or container for the kit. While you can purchase prepackaged medical kits, I would recommend purchasing individual pieces and making your own, not only can it be cheaper but you are able to choose what you get. The pouch or case you choose is up to you. I have a small pouch with a handle for my backpack but my vehicle kit will probably be in a Pelican waterproof box. Next, you will need to fill it with the most important supplies first, meaning the ones that will help you perform what was discussed above. Next you can add in the other items that may be needed. I have compiled a short list to get you thinking:

  • Latex Gloves
  • Gauze
  • Triangle Bandage
  • Israeli Bandage
  • Assorted size Band-aids
  • Lidocaine Burn Gel
  • Tweezers and Safety Pin
  • Sterile Eye Pad
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Insect Sting and Bite Relief Wipes
  • Anti-Diarrheal and Antacid Tablets
  • Water Purification Tabs (Iodine or Chlorine)
  • Small roll of Ace Bandage
  • Blister kit (my hiking FAK only)

Combat Gauze, Ace Bandage, Triangle Bandage, Multipurpose Salve, Waterproof tape and a CPR mouth to mouth barrier

Vacuum sealed gauze, Self-adhering bandage, Ceralyte for dehydration, Tweezers and latex gloves 

An Israeli bandage surrounded by assorted wipes, gels, pads and band-aids

All these items can be purchased just about anywhere and for cheap. I do recommend having each item in a plastic package or in a ziploc bag to make it waterproof. Wet gauze will be useless and water dissolvable tablets will be gone if they get wet. One thing to remember is that your FAK will never be finished, it will be constantly evolving and changing to suit your needs and situation. 

I hope this article has been helpful and gets you thinking about what you can do to be prepared to help your family or others. This article is by no means a comprehensive look at how to save life and limb. it's purely a quick crash course on the basics meant to get you thinking and preparing. Especially in the shadow of the Orlando mass shooting, it is becoming increasingly important that we are able to patch ourselves and others up. The less dependent you are on medical personnel that also have to help 100 other people, the better your chances are of surviving. In a day where we just say "the ambulance is coming" to the person bleeding out on the ground, be that citizen that can save a life on the spot. 

In conclusion, I must say that I am not a doctor or EMS. I am simply a citizen that has taken the time to research and learn how the body works and how to preserve life. I recommend getting information from other resources and professionals. We never stop learning and there is a lot I don't know. I am just sharing what I do know with the hopes that it may enable you to save a life one day. Let me know what you think or if you have any tips on emergency first aid, leave them in the comments below. Also, let me know what you carry in your FAK. If you have any questions, please email me and sign up for our newsletter to get weekly update on new articles! Stay safe out there and always be ready for anything!