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The great First Aid Kit debate…..

“Whats in your first aid kit?” ….This is a question likely to almost cause mass hysteria on some internet fora, bringing with it quotes about the Health and Safety at Work Act, Misuse of Drugs, Competencies, Approved Codes of Practice…

I originally posted this article on another blog using my online pseudonym, I then got round to thinking that actually it would  be quite useful posted here as a reference for those who have or are planning to attend one of our first aid courses.

So……here goes nothing……What should be in your first aid kit ?………

Well as its your first aid kit, for use on yourself  it can contain whatever you feel necessary for your activity, added to whatever drugs and medicines you need to take, within the scope of the law of course. I regularly go on bushcraft meets with a couple of guys who need to take Morphine on prescription – now for them to posess and take their POM (prescription only medicines) is perfectly legal, for them to use that same POM to assist another human in suffering could be highly illegal in certain countries – aside from the fact that in reality giving anyone any drug prescription or otherwise without the training and more importantly experience to back that up is risky in the least.

What is important about drugs is knowing what effects drugs can have on you and your companions – telling your companions, or simply having a card or similar with your medical history printed on it somewhere may save the emergency services vital minutes when treating you, and knowing that a companion who takes Wafarin will not stop bleeding quickly due to the drug may make the difference between you calling for the help you need  or fruitlessly trying to stop a severe bleed, that wont.

There are over the counter medicines that are safe to use as long as the instructions are followed and are in date – useful ones for your kit are analgesics like Paracetamol, Anti Inflammatories like Diclofenac and Ibuprofen. Anti diahorrea tablets, Anti Histamines and a particularly good addition is Diarolyte a rehydrant powder mixed with water, sun bloc or sun screen, and maybe an antiseptic cream – remembering that we are still talking about YOUR kit for use on YOU.

There is always the danger of carting around so much kit with you for those ‘what if situations’ that you need a team of Sherpas to carry it. A good ‘basic kit’ will cover most eventualities for injuries sustained in the UK, and a lot of the basics can now be sourced very cost effectively at pound stores. Its also useful to note that whilst we are dicussing  ‘basics’ that even the British standard Institute has created a new British Standard for first aid kits within the workplace – BS8599-1:2011 which is far better stocked than the old FAAW kits.

So what basics do we need ? Well to assess this we first need to assess the environment in which we will operate,  the potential injuries, the potential seriousness of those injuries, the standard of training and experience of the first aider/user and finally the time to rescue.

For the latter if you have a means of communication, be it phone, radio, flares, whistle or simply reliant on someone reporting you missing then the UKSAR services have a very good track record of getting to you quickly when it counts, BUT rescue times could still be measured in hours rather than tens of minutes – not a problem when you have sprained an ankle but when bleeding from an arterial injury you probably have less than 30 minutes before its too late, and sadly if you’re alone and have stopped breathing then you have less than 8 minutes to get help – no first aid kit will save you at this point.

Bushcrafters generally have access to sharps, which are VERY sharp, cuts are not uncommon and deep cuts can be very serious. Bushcrafters like open fires, burns are not uncommon and as a 1% burn can reduce your bodys fluid content by 1% they have the potential to become serious, especially as infection is a problem. By and large Bushcrafters wander off the beaten track and ankle injuries are not uncommon – on a recent trip one of our companions turned an ankle carrying a large pack, not a serious injury they could weight bear. It was strapped till the short walk to camp was completed and then rested. Cold compresses were applied and the companion took some anti inflammatories from his first aid kit.  The ankle was sore but unhindered his progress on the next days walk out with the addition of suitable strapping with a cohesive bandage.

Basically your kit needs to contain things to stop you from bleeding to death, help cool burns (and dress them), stabilise a break/sprain, clean a wound, irrigate an eye, keep hydrated, remove a splinter etc.

So a selection of waterproof plasters, a couple of large wound dressings – the Isreali Trauma dressing is a favourite, a water jel burns dressing, a couple of large plastic bags, some hand cleaning jel, 5 ish metres of duct tape ( a first aid wonder which can be used for making improvised casts, slings, wound closures, sealing penetrating wounds, and holds the world together), 2″ zinc oxide strapping tape, a couple of steri pod eye washes (beats having to use your drinking water), tweezers, vetwrap cohesive bandage…. packed with your medications of course into a small waterproof bag wouldnt cost the earth in £’s, or be too much of a weight penalty in lb’s.

Rucksack straps and framing can be used as splints, shemaghs as triangular bandages, microfibre pack towels as wound dressings, sanitary towels and tampons – self explanatory really, disposable nappies, foam roll mats can be used as improvised splinting, as padding and of course insulation from the cold ground we lose heat into the ground 4 times faster than we do into air……. Oh and whilst we thinking about cold pack an emergency shelter of some kind e.g KISU, blizzard bag etc as one of the the most common causes of death in the outdoors is actually hypothermia.

Good sound knowledge teamed with experience, and a sprinkling of improvisation can enable you to deal with most things until you can get yourself off the hill or until rescue arrives. Remembering that ‘there are those that will die no matter what you do, those that will live no matter what you do…its the ones in between we can help’.

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