5 Lifesaving Emergency Tips

5 Lifesaving Emergency Tips

Most people don’t think about what they’d do in an emergency beyond calling 911. But did you know that the average time for an ambulance to arrive from the time you call 911 ranges from eight to 14 minutes? And that’s the average—it can range up to 30 minutes in rural areas.

Do you know what to do while you’re waiting? As a new FEMA program tells us: You are the help until help arrives.     

1. Learn CPR and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). When it comes to cardiac arrest, an ambulance will arrive too late; even eight minutes without oxygen to the brain is too long. About 350,000 adults and 16,000 children experience cardiac arrest each year. Their survival depends on someone administering CPR before the ambulance arrives.

Knowing CPR can triple that person’s chances of survival. Learn CPR and how to use an AED by taking a class with the Red Cross or American Heart Association.  

2. Stop bleeding safely. If someone has a cut that’s bleeding, you should make a tourniquet, right? Wrong. Unless you’re a paramedic and the injured person is bleeding to death, don’t try it. Instead, apply pressure and elevate the injured area higher than the level of the heart. That means if the cut is in the leg, lay the person on the ground and elevate his or her legs. When applying pressure, it’s best to use sterile gauze, but if it’s not available, grab a towel or t-shirt. Push hard, especially if it’s a very rapid bleed, and hold it. Don’t let go for 10 minutes. No peeking and no checking or the clot won’t be able to form.

3. Do not move an injured person. Injuries are often made worse when someone’s well-intentioned friends try to move them or make them more comfortable. Unless someone is somewhere truly dangerous, like in the middle of the highway or at risk of fire or drowning, leave him or her in place.

4. Know the “back blow” maneuver for choking. Everyone seems to know of the Heimlich, but the American Red Cross now recommends doing back blows first. Lean the choking person slightly forward and using the heel of your hand, hit his back five times just between the shoulder blades. If that doesn’t work, give five quick Heimlich thrusts by standing behind the choking person, grabbing your fists at their navel and administering five upward thrusts. Repeat the cycle of five back blows and five thrusts until the person coughs out the object or loses consciousness, at which point you should start CPR.

5. Keep 325 mg aspirin on hand. In a heart attack, blood cells and platelets form a clot that blocks blood flow, causing the dangerous lack of oxygen to the heart. Aspirin can prevent that clot formation in as little as five minutes. If you think a loved one is having a heart attack, call 911 first. Then, if they’re not allergic to aspirin or haven’t been told to avoid it, have them chew the pill (which absorbs more quickly than swallowing the pill whole). 

These five activities are not just “nice to know”—they save lives. Learn them. If you have to use any of these techniques, the patient, your ER doctor and you will be glad you did.

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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