The 5 Skills You Need to Save a Life

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The 5 Skills You Need to Save a Life

The 5 Skills You Need to Save a Life

When the moment arrives, do you have the competence and the tools at hand to save a life?  When you see blood squirting out of your partner’s leg, do you know what to do?  Can you safely move your unconscious spouse out of a burning building?  If you’re first on the scene of a freeway pileup with multiple victims, do you know how to identify injuries and decide who to help before the first responders arrive?  Or will you be just another bystander  Put the Sheepdog way: When the time comes to save a life, will you be an asset? Or will you be a liability?

Skill 1: Know how to use a tourniquet

Your top priority when it comes to emergency medical care is knowing how to stop major bleeding. Traumatic blood loss from a workplace or car accident, cut, or even a bullet, is immediately life-threatening.  With extreme bleeding in the arms or legs, a tourniquet will need to be applied quickly, and correctly, to stop blood flow.  “Everybody needs to know how to use a tourniquet and be able to have it in place and tightened within 30 seconds,” said Dr. Michael Simpson, M.D., former Medical Director for Sheepdog Response.

With several tourniquets on the market and many cheap forgeries, Simpson recommends only using Tactical Combat Casualty Care-approved (TCCC) tourniquets such as the Combat Application Tourniquet (C-A-T) The RATS tourniquet, or the SOF® Tactical Tourniquet.  Although not a tourniquet, another option is the SDR T3. Simpson, who is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and former 18D Special Forces Medic, worked with Persys Medical to bring the SDR T3 to the public. Featuring two bandages and wound-packing gauze, the SDR T3 can be used to cover and pack a variety of wounds. Additionally, it can be converted to use as an emergency tourniquet by using the closure bar as a windlass. Since it is not designed to be a dedicated tourniquet, the SDR T3 should not be carried as your primary tourniquet.

Simpson suggests carrying a minimum of two tourniquets at all times.  “I’m usually carrying three tourniquets with me,” Simpson said. “My primary tourniquet is in the pocket of my cargo pants. I also have one in each of the two IFAKs (Individual First-Aid Kit) in the daypack that I carry with me everywhere I go.”  He stresses that no matter what tourniquet you use, it should be out of its original packaging and carried “loaded” – ready to put on.  The tourniquet should also be carried so it is not exposed to direct sunlight since the UVA rays will degrade the material over time.

Skill 2: Be able to do a basic field trauma survey

If you’re first on the scene of an accident or mass casualty, you’ll need to be able to identify all of the victim’s injuries within seconds.  If there is massive bleeding, where is it coming from? Is the person not breathing?  “Doing a basic field trauma survey is critical, yet extremely hard to do without proper training,” Simpson said. “With ballistic trauma, for example, people will often find the entrance wound and start treating that while the victim is bleeding out from the exit wound.”

Skill 3: Know how to use the contents of your IFAK

An IFAK  is not designed to be a mobile medical command center. Nor is it carried to treat headaches, minor cuts, or abrasions. The IFAK should only contain gear that will save your life.  While there are dozens of IFAKs on the market these days, Simpson believes the minimum you should carry in your IFAK is a tourniquet, a battle/pressure dressing, chest seal, wound-packing material, and Nitrile gloves.  Sheepdog Response carries a great new IFAK called the SDR Trauma Kit.

Just as vital as the IFAK’s contents are the skills of the person carrying it. How many people have first-aid kits in their cars yet have no idea how to use anything other than a Band-Aid?  “Again, it goes back to training,” Simpson said. “You need to know how to use the equipment in your IFAK. Someone’s life depends on it.”  He recommends using your IFAK and practicing how to apply a tourniquet to others and yourself. You should also practice packing a wound and applying chest seals using the contents of your IFAK.  Use dedicated practice materials that you can reuse for training, but are not kept in your IFAK. While it’s a no-brainer not to reuse sterile dressings, not many know a tourniquet is a one-time use item. Buy a dedicated training tourniquet that is a different color than the one carried in your IFAK.

Skill 4: Know how to triage a patient

After identifying the person’s injuries, which wound gets treated first?  If there are multiple people injured, who has the most severe injuries?  In the Tactical Trauma Response Course, students are taught triage basics: If the victim has an injury that is a threat to life, limb, or eyesight, that person is treated immediately.  “Being able to perform triage is important and, again, requires training,” Simpson said. “The most common mistake untrained people make is sending people who are nearly dead or imminently dying to the ambulance first. That has happened in every mass casualty scenario I’ve been involved in. People who may have survived their injuries didn’t because their treatment was delayed.”  “If you don’t have the basic medical skills or materials to treat someone in the field, the next best thing you can do is triage them properly,” Simpson added.

Skill 5: How to safely move someone

There will be times when the injured person needs to be moved to prevent additional harm. This could be moving someone out of the line of fire in a mass shooting, carrying an unconscious co-worker out of a building fire, or dragging an injured motorcyclist out of oncoming traffic.  “Never carry someone based on what you see in a movie or YouTube video,” Simpson said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”  “The fireman’s carry is not effective and will probably just get you hurt. Whenever possible, have the patient assist you. Lift with your legs and use proper body mechanics to keep you and the patient safe.” Those with minor injuries can often walk, or be assisted, to a casualty collection point in a safe area.  Those with more serious injuries will need to be safely transported to a new location.

Get the proper training

As you can see, the basic skills you need to save a life are simple but require a minimal level of training to be effective.  If you have the opportunity, attend the two-day Tactical Trauma Response Course by Sheepdog Response. Built from our experience gained from multiple combat deployments, the course covers situation awareness, hemostasis, casualty movement, airway, breathing, hemorrhagic shock, head trauma, how to record treatments on casualty cards (included in most IFAKs) and how to communicate that care to 9-1-1 and first responders, as well as trauma scene management.

If you are not able to make it to one of our courses, We advocate taking a Stop The Bleed class near you or any course that is approved by the National Association of Medical Technicians.


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