For many Americans, their first response to an emergency is to call 911. However, when you live off the grid, your remote location may make it difficult–or even impossible–for an ambulance to reach you.
Therefore, your knowledge of first aid skills can mean the difference between life and death. Not only will you be able to help friends and family in a dire emergency, you also will gain valuable peace of mind.
Here are seven skills you should learn before going off the grid.
1. Apply a Tourniquet
Uncontrolled bleeding can quickly turn an injury into a life-threatening situation. Deep cuts and lacerations in certain areas of the body can cause an adult to bleed out in minutes. You can use a shirt, a towel, or a sheet as an emergency tourniquet, but it’s better to purchase a real tourniquet which is designed for this purpose.
Here are the basic steps for applying a tourniquet.
- Place the tourniquet two inches above the wound (the part closer to the heart). If a joint is in the way, place the tourniquet two inches above the joint.
- Wrap the tourniquet firmly until you cannot feel the person’s pulse downstream of it.
- Apply a bandage to the wound.
- After about 15 minutes, slowly release the tourniquet. If blood starts flowing, repeat the process.
- You may continue applying the tourniquet for up to two hours or until you get medical help.
Here is a Mayo Clinic video showing the process of applying a tourniquet.
2. Perform CPR
Knowing how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can save someone’s life during a cardiac or breathing emergency. The procedure involves manual chest compressions often combined with artificial ventilation. Its goal is to preserve brain function and restore blood circulation and breathing when someone is in cardiac arrest. The procedure differs slightly for adults and children.
3. Perform the Heimlich maneuver
Do you know what to do when someone is choking? Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. The Heimlich maneuver is a simple technique that uses abdominal thrusts to expel an object that is blocking someone’s airway.
A person is choking if they are not coughing and are unable to speak or breathe. Typically, a choking person signals for help by holding their hands around their throat. Here are the basic steps. (Please note that the procedure differs slightly for children and pregnant women.)
- Get the person to stand.
- Position yourself behind the person and lean the person forward.
- Give five blows to their back with the heel of your hand.
- Wrap your arms around their waist, making a fist.
- Place your fist just above their navel (thumb side in).
- Cover the fist with your other hand as you push inward and upward at the same time.
- Repeat until the object is expelled and the person can breathe or cough.
Here is a video showing the Heimlich maneuver.
4. Splint a Broken Bone
Applying a splint helps support and protect injured bones and soft tissue until you can get medical treatment. A splint also reduces pain and swelling and can prevent muscle spasms.
In an emergency, you can use many everyday materials–such as cardboard, sturdy sticks, or even newspapers–to create a temporary splint. You also can use what you have on hand (a rope, a bandana, or a shirt) to tie the splint in place.
The splint should immobilize both the bone above and below the joint. For instance, if someone has broken the lower leg, you should splint both the ankle and the knee. To fully immobilize an arm fracture, use a sling in addition to the splint.
Until you can get medical help, check the pulse below the splint every hour. If you cannot detect the pulse or if the person complains of any numbness, rewrap the area more loosely. Here is a video showing how to apply a splint.
5. Prevent And Treat Shock
When someone goes into shock, the organs are not getting enough blood or oxygen. A person can go into shock as a result of trauma, blood loss, heatstroke, allergic reaction, poisoning, severe infection, or burns. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated shock can lead to organ damage and even death.
Signs of shock can include clammy skin, ashen skin, quick pulse, rapid breathing, nausea or vomiting, enlarged pupils, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, or fainting. Here are the steps to treat someone with shock.
- If there is not a head, neck, or back injury, get the person to lie down but do not raise their head.
- Elevate their feet about 12 inches.
- Turn the person on their side if there is any vomiting or bleeding from the mouth.
- Begin CPR, if the person is not breathing.
- Treat any obvious injuries.
- Loosen any restrictive clothing.
- Keep person warm with coat or blanket.
- Do not give food or drink.
- Speak reassuringly to the person.
Other steps to treat this condition depend on the cause of shock. Here is a video on the basics of how to treat shock.
6. Treat A Burn
Major and minor burns are tissue damage from the sun, hot water, chemicals, electricity, or open flames. Burns are extremely painful and can result in infection.
Burned areas tend to swell rapidly, so after you have made sure the person is safe from the cause of the burn, gently remove any clothing items or accessories that are in the affected area. Here are some other basic first-aid steps in burn treatment.
- Use a moist bandage or a wet compress to cool the burn.
- Do not break blisters, which help protect against infection. However, if a blister in the burn area breaks on its own, clean the entire area with water and then apply an antibiotic ointment.
- Once the burn has cooled, apply aloe vera or another moisturizer to prevent drying and to provide relief.
- Cover the burn loosely with a sterile gauze bandage.
Even minor burns can cause a person to become dehydrated, so be sure to offer the patient some water. Here is a video showing treatment for burns – both what to do and what not to do.
7. Prepare And Maintain A First Aid Kit
Our final skill is one that will help you accomplish all the others. By having a fully-stocked first aid kit available at all times, you will not waste precious minutes searching for the right items to treat an injury.
In addition to the standard supplies available in a premade first aid kit, add items that would meet the specific needs of the members your family. Also include alternative medicines such as medicinal herbs, plants or essential oils that serve as remedies for minor to moderate conditions.
Finally, taking a basic first aid course (or a refresher course) will help give you the knowledge and confidence you need to act quickly and responsibly in an emergency situation. Check the Red Cross website for classes in your area.