“We were one of the first cars on the scene, so the paramedics weren’t there yet, but I heard screaming sirens getting closer—we’d have help soon.”

“We were one of the first cars on the scene, so the paramedics weren’t there yet, but I heard screaming sirens getting closer—we’d have help soon.”
MattGush/iStock/Getty Images Plus

About a week ago, I happened upon a horrific accident. I tried to render aid, but it was too late. Here’s the story, what I learned from it, and six things we can all do to be more prepared. 

I was driving onto the American Fork on-ramp, when my friend and I saw commotion ahead. I immediately pulled over and grabbed the med-kit I had always kept in my glove box, in preparation for this exact situation. We were one of the first cars on the scene, so the paramedics weren’t there yet, but I heard screaming sirens getting closer—we’d have help soon.

On Monday, December 1, a friend of mine took me bouldering in an indoor climbing gym in my home State of Utah. It was a blast (and I have a newfound respect for Alex Honnold), but the thing that sticks out about that night was what happened afterwards. 

In an unforgivably huge oversight, I had never before trained with the certain med-kit I had placed in the glove box over a year earlier. I’m also ashamed to admit, I had never even looked at the contents inside the sealed, Army-green plastic bag emblazoned with the words QuickClot—I figured it was just a huge piece of gauze with blood-clotting powder on it (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). 

Though I stupidly hadn’t taken a look at the contents of the first aid kit, I do have some good first aid training under my belt. I first learned the basics of CPR and first aid when I was 11, in a Red Cross-sponsored babysitting class. Soon after, I earned my Eagle Scout award, having taken the First Aid and Lifesaving merit badges, and completing my Eagle Project with the help from the Naples, NY Ambulance Corps, training local teachers in first aid and equipping them with lifesaving supplies. Additionally, when my family moved to Utah, I became a Red Cross-certified lifeguard at 17. 

I was thinking of this past training while I ran up to the victim, who was lying on the street in a contorted position (I won’t describe the violent scene further than that, as this is meant to be a constructive piece everyone can read). The onlookers already there said they thought the man’s neck was broken, so heavily treating his head wounds, rolling him over to start CPR, and tipping his head slightly back to help free the airway were out of the question. After an excruciating minute rummaging through my med-kit, I finally found the gauze in my med-pack, and women already at his head gently applied it, but it was already a lost cause. Unfortunately, the man had sustained fatal injuries, and it was too late. 

Watching this happen was hard for everyone at the scene, and that’s why I’m writing this piece, to highlight the mistakes I made that night, and try to help you avoid them, God-forbid you find yourself in a lifesaving situation. If I may be so presumptuous, below are six suggestions I’ve learned through my first aid training, and, mostly, through that night. They aren’t meant as professional medical advice, but are things I feel would help us all become more prepared:

1) Put together a quality med-kit, and place it in your car

Notice the wording here, put together. Try to avoid my mistake here, and know what’s in your med-kit by putting it together yourself, if possible. A good first aid kit should include at least one compression bandage/huge piece of gauze, and tourniquet. It should also have non-latex gloves, a breathing barrier, and medical shears and tape. These items are more for serious injuries, you might also want to have equipment for treating minor injuries, like tweezers, bandages, and an instant cold compress. There’s no good in having a kit if you don’t have it when you need it, though! Make sure to locate your med-kit somewhere you can reach with one hand.

2) Know how to use it

Train with what you have in your kit and know where each item is situated, so you can deploy it with ease and effectiveness. If the first aid items you bought are sealed (most are, to keep the products sterile), make sure to buy a few extras so you can open the packages and look inside. Get a feel for the equipment you might be using someday to save someone’s life. Practice with the extra products, it’ll only cost a few bucks more, but can make all the difference. I wish I had done this simple, non-expensive step. Take classes on CPR and sharpen up your first aid skills, so you’re prepared, if/when you’re needed. If you’re a parent, consider teaching your children basic first aid skills, it could even make a fun, productive family night. If you’re wondering where to get trained up, the Red Cross provides training, as does multiple veteran-run companies, like the Warrior Poet Society. Your local ambulance corps might also provide training you can take for a relatively low price. In addition, many universities and colleges now offer credit courses in first aid and CPR basics. Look into what’s near you and work with your current financial level—this could even be as simple as learning a couple things from a veteran or hospital worker in your friend circle. If these options are too expensive or time-consuming for you, YouTube is the home to many channels that produce professional, reliable, trustworthy content on first aid and lifesaving skills—PrepMedic, and the aforementioned Warrior Poet Society are two good ones.

3) “Prioritize and execute” victim care

One of Jocko Willink’s popular maxims doesn’t only apply to work responsibilities, it works for emergency situations, too. Remember your ABCs when questioning where to direct your attention first—Airway, Bleeding, Cardiovascular. Attend to those issues on a victim in that order, or if there are multiple victims, use this simple, three-letter arrangement to decide who needs care first. Remember—provided you called 911—help is coming, you’ll only have to hold out for ten minutes, tops.  

4) Don’t do it on your own

When you’re at an emergency scene, your attention can be pulled in a million directions at once—don’t be afraid to take a leadership role (especially if no professional emergency personnel are present), your quick action could save lives. Delegate tasks to others. For instance, you and another trained individual could perform CPR while a non-trained person keeps pressure on a wound you instructed them to dress, or calls 911. Everyone has the capacity to help in an emergency situation, even if their task is small.

5) Avoid diffusion of responsibility

This one is huge, and one I totally fell for. Because there were already people on the scene when I arrived that night, I fell into the bystander effect and stupidly assumed 911 had already been called (luckily, it had, but imagine what could have happened if we all assumed someone else would make the call). Call yourself, assign someone else to do so, or verbally affirm 911 has been contacted. After that, start helping victims at the scene and help lead others to do the same. Help is coming, provided you make the call.

6) Be ready for the psychological part of treating someone

For most, watching someone in pain is difficult (especially if you know the person). If you do have to respond to an emergency situation, be ready for a possible psychological toll. For instance, you might be in shock, experience slight physical pain, or be emotionally distant—and that’s okay. According to Psychology Today, talking through the experience could help, so could relaxing, and eating or drinking something healthy. If things get really bad, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance! Visiting a licensed therapist, or even a call (1-800-273-8255) or text (HOME to 741741) to the National Suicide Hotline can help.

I learned a lot from my experience, and, if it’s not too presumptuous for me to say (or write), I hope this article helped you do the same. Every year in the U.S., on average, 6 million car crashes occur—that comes out to well over 16,000 crashes per day. Each of these is an opportunity, God-forbid, for someone to get injured, but each is also an opportunity for individual people to help. Let us be those people. 

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