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  » First Aid  »  Summoning Help
Hundreds of situations, including small bumps and bruises, mild allergic reactions, and slight burns, are not necessarily life-threatening but still require first aid. Other more serious circumstances necessitate emergency medical treatment and follow-up care. The first part of this chapter outlines three essential components of first aid: summoning help, victim assessment and goals of first aid, and transporting the victim. Following these sections, the most common first-aid occurrences, both life-threatening and less serious, are summarized in alphabetical order. Other situations, such as childbirth emergencies, psychiatric crises, and similar situations involving diseases, are covered in the chapters dealing with specific disorders.

Knowing how to summon help should an emergency arise is crucial to successful first aid. Clearly post emergency phone numbers on or near all phones. Each family member should know who to call. In most areas, the most important contact will be an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) squad. Some squads operate from hospitals or medical centers, others from fire or police stations. The emergency medical technicians who staff these crews are expertly trained and equipped. In most areas, the EMS can be summoned by telephoning the police emergency number, 911, or by asking the telephone operator to summon an ambulance or rescue squad. Other important numbers to have on hand are the local or regional poison control center (consult the list in appendix C) and the closest major hospital with a well-equipped and staffed emergency department. If you are in doubt about which hospital to choose, ask your family doctor for a recommendation.

In calling for an ambulance or emergency squad, make sure that you give:
  • The precise location or address and the telephone number from which you are calling.
  • The nature of the emergency.
  • The number of people involved.
  • The location of the emergency. For example: "I am calling from the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue. My number here is 555-6385. There has been a car accident and two people are badly injured." or "I am at 236 First Avenue South, in apartment 24. My telephone number is 555-4545. My husband is having chest pains and I think he may be having a heart attack."
  • Do not hang up until you are certain that the person on the line has all the necessary information and your telephone number should it be necessary to call back. Be prepared to give instructions on how to reach you.
  • If it is night, try to have outdoor lights on or someone posted at the driveway or building entrance to give further instructions.
Whenever recommendations are given in this text to transport seriously ill or injured persons, it should be assumed that the best way to do so is by ambulance/rescue vehicle equipped and staffed with personnel trained in stabilization and transport of these victims.


The effective application of first-aid techniques depends primarily on the ability of the rescuer to assess the situation and to make the proper decisions without delay. These situations can be divided into three types:
  • Life-threatening emergencies that require immediate action on the part of the rescuer as well as complex medical follow-up.
  • Potentially serious situations that are not life-threatening but that require medical care. This is the most difficult situation for a layperson to judge without first-aid training.
  • Those that require simple first aid or selfcare.
The goals of first aid are:
  1. To restore and maintain vital functions. The ABC of basic life support (open airway, breathing, and circulation) are always the first priority.
  2. To prevent further injury or deterioration
  3. To reassure the victim and make him or her as comfortable as possible
The order in which first aid should be provided is:
  • First: Assess victim for signs of life. For an adult if signs of life are absent, dial 911 or otherwise call for help. (For children, attempt rescue breathing for one minute before calling for help.)
  • Second: Restore respiration if breathing has stopped.
  • Third: Restore heart action if there is no discernible heartbeat or pulse.
  • Fourth: Stop bleeding.
  • Fifth: Treat for shock.
If there are other bystanders, one should immediately summon help while emergency first aid is being administered. After help has been called, other first-aid measures can then be initiated, depending upon the circumstances.


A fundamental rule of first aid dictates that the victim should not be moved but should be treated where she lies. However, there are circumstances in which a severely injured person must be moved to prevent further injury from fire, an explosion, fumes, or other potentially life-threatening hazards. Follow these guidelines.
  • If possible, short-distance transport should be accomplished on a firm surface such as a stretcher, or a board that will provide even support for the entire body.
  • If the victim must be dragged to a safe place, pull her lengthwise, not sideways.
  • If possible, try to place a blanket under the person so that the edge of the blanket can be pulled carrying her weight. In any situation where spinal injury is suspected and the patient must be moved, the spine and the neck must be kept in alignment. Do not move the neck.