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The basics of first aid…

How to deal with:

Every day 15 people in Ireland suddenly die, either as a result of an accident, a road crash or a heart attack. Some of these deaths are instant, but many of those who die suddenly could have been saved by the timely intervention of emergency first aid. It is well known that the moments between an accident occurring and the arrival of medical help can be crucial in determining a patient's outcome.

A basic knowledge of first aid is the sort of skill that no one ever wishes to have to use, but nevertheless it could mean the difference between life and death for a loved one some day. The First Aid Training Service, a private firm of former ambulance staff who offer occupational first aid training, estimate that in eight out of ten accidental or sudden fatalities, the incident is witnessed by a close friend or relative of the victim.

Take a course

The best way to ensure you can help if you ever witness an accident or a heart attack is to actually take a course in first aid and learn the correct methods of resuscitation, CPR, and discover what to do if someone is choking, or poisoned, or bleeding. First aid should not be attempted by people who have not been trained.

"There is no substitute for a full-blown course in first aid", explained Richard Treacy, the Brigade training officer of the St John's Ambulance. "No matter what age you are, you can save someone's life if you have the proper training. We offer courses in first aid to juniors, some of whom are 11 years old, but adults can do a basic first aid course at any age. There is no greater gift you can give someone than to keep them alive".

Courses are available around the country from voluntary organisations like the Order of Malta ambulance corps and the St John's Ambulance brigade. The Irish Red Cross Society, which is affiliated to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Organisation worldwide, also offers inexpensive and comprehensive training in first aid from beginner's level up to advanced, including specialist courses in CPR, occupational first aid and safe lifting of ill people.


Farms are often the location for accidents involving children who do not understand the dangers of machinery. Agriculture workers ought to have at least a basic understanding of first aid since rural areas are usually the most remote from emergency health services.

Basic first aid knowledge equips people to deal with the immediate aftermath of emergencies. Most first aid courses will cover tending to fractures and burns, treating bleeding or shock, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and assisting people who are unconscious or have been poisoned. Techniques such as artificial respiration, CPR and fracture splinting should not be attempted without proper training.

  • Drowning

Drowning is used medically to describe any death that results from a lack of oxygen caused by fluid in the lungs or stomach. Alcohol is often linked with cases of drowning and no one should attempt to swim, even in the relative safety of a pool, if they have been drinking.

Once someone in water becomes tired or begins to panic, they cease to keep themselves properly afloat. They may then begin to ingest water which can lead to death. Someone on the point of drowning can be saved by first aid, as long as immediate steps are taken to keep them afloat. Their head must be kept above water level until they can be brought to dry land where their condition can be assessed.

If they have been swimming in the open, they may also be experiencing exposure, or a lowering of body temperature, which can be treated by drying the person and wrapping them in many layers. If they are not breathing normally, they will require artificial respiration, or mouth-to-mouth. Near drowning cases should always be taken to hospital for assessment even if they seem fine, in order to be sure that they did not ingest too much fluids.

  • Fractures and Burns

Fractures can be compound or simple, meaning that the affected bone has or has not broken the skin. In either case, fractures are treated the same. The affected body part should be immobilised, preferably with some form of splint and the patient should be made comfortable.

If the limb is badly distorted, it may need to be straightened, but this is best done by a trained medical professional. It should not be attempted unless there is no chance of medical help arriving for a long time. A compound fracture should be covered with a clean, dry dressing. There is no point in attempting to clean it as this will be done in hospital.

Burns are classified as to how far they burn into the skin. Third degree burns destroy all of the skin and require immediate hospital treatment. The first step in treating any burn is to pour cold water on the affected area. This prevents the burn from spreading to surrounding areas and helps to ease the pain somewhat. The burn should then be covered with a clean bandage. The dressing should be smooth and not fluffy, as materials like cotton wool can cause friction or stick to the exposed skin.

  • Bleeding and Shock

People have been known to bleed to death from cuts to an artery, but this is usually when no first aid has been available and the patient has been too fearful or loath to treat themselves. Firstly, all obvious dirt or debris should be removed from the wound area and then the edges of the wound should be pressed together tightly with the fingers, or preferably with a clean cloth.

The damaged part should be raised above the level of the heart if this is possible, and pressure continued for at least ten minutes. Most doctors contend that it is better to apply such pressure than to attempt to create a tourniquet, which is worse than ineffective if it is not tight enough.


Shock often occurs after a person is injured in a road traffic accident.

There are a number of different kinds of shock, varying from anaphylactic shock caused by an acute allergic reaction to septic shock, caused by the body becoming overwhelmed by bacterial toxins. Shock is usually defined as a lack of oxygen reaching the tissues and is most commonly caused by heart or circulatory failure.

The cause of shock is usually obvious - after a car crash shock is most likely due to blood loss. The patient is usually dizzy and nauseous and may lapse out of consciousness. They should be lain flat with their legs raised to increase blood flow to the brain. They should not be given anything to eat or drink and should be transferred to a hospital as quickly as possible.

  • CPR

Cardiac arrest occurs when a person's heart ceases to beat. This is an occasion when first aid is essential for saving a life, as every minute that the heart is not beating reduces the chances of that person recovering at all. Brain death can occur in a matter of minutes, so CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) is one of a number of methods that should be used in an attempt to get the heart beating again.


Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

If attempts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation fail and there is no defibrillator that could be used by a trained person, pressing rhythmically and firmly on the breastbone with both hands may help to start the person breathing again. With a child, only one hand should be used, in order not to cause damage to the ribcage or breastbone. With an infant, only two fingers should be used for the same reason. If two people are present, one should apply mouth-to-mouth while the other attempts CPR.

  • Poisoning

Poisoning occurs when the body ingests any substance which disrupts how the body functions. It can take many forms, from animal or insect bites to accidental or deliberate consumption of tablets, poisonous berries or household bleach. The important thing is to discover what the person has ingested. If it is tablets or berries, and they are conscious, induce vomiting by putting your fingers down their throat.

Do not do this if you suspect they have ingested anything corrosive, such as bleach or petrol. Instead, make them drink as much water or milk as possible. In all cases, move the victim into the recovery position until an ambulance arrives and tell the ambulance personnel what the poisonous substance was if you know. This can aid hospital staff in treating the patient.

More information

The Irish Red Cross Society can be contacted at 16 Merrion Square, Dublin 2. Telephone (01) 6765135, Fax (01) 6614461, email redcross@iol.ie. Their website is at http://www.redcross.ie.

St John's Ambulance Brigade of Ireland is organised throughout the country. A number of local divisions have websites, though the national organisation does not. They can be contacted at 29 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4, Telephone (01) 6688077.

The Order of Malta can be contacted at St John's House, Clyde Road, Dublin 4. Telephone (01) 6684891, Fax (01) 6685288, email Webmaster@orderofmalta.ie. Their website is at http://www.orderofmalta.ie.

Books on first aid are also available in many good book shops.

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Last Reviewed: 21st August 2001



  Anonymous   Posted: 22/08/2001 09:03
good article - hope people start learning first aid - they may need it to help a loved one some day or to save someone's life
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 22/08/2001 23:46
Very good but the personally I think that all students in secondary school at the very least should have to do a first aid course as part of their curriculum
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 23/08/2001 09:08
Very good article and reminds me that I need to keep doing First Aid refresher courses. Not enough attention is made to live saving service. First Aid training should part of the second level school curriculum.
 
  Helga(mikaela)  Posted: 12/11/2001 22:05
In several European countries it is now mandantory to do a First Aid course before you are issued with your first driving licence. I think that it is a good start as drivers are often the first one at an accident scene, at the same time you have to carry a First Aid Kit in the boot of your car and it costs quite a few points when the kit is not the regulation one.
 
  Kathryn(Kathryngriffin)  Posted: 21/08/2002 20:03
I would like to become a first aid instructor , I am a nurse..Do you know any courses in Ireland other than the ambulance service.... Kathryn
 
  John(johnpt)  Posted: 26/03/2003 23:41
I TEACH FIRST AID .THERE IS GREAT SATISFACTION IN BEING ABLE TO SHOW PEOPLE HOW TO RENDER FIRST AID.
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 14/07/2003 16:50
I am a member of the Order of Malta, as well as working professionally in Emergency 999 Ambulances.You would be amazed at the number of calls I have attended, where even the most basic first aid knowledge would have made a significant difference. First aid classes are on in almost every school that provides evening classes. If not, get in touch with local Order of Malta, John's Ambulance etc. Look for web sites, use the Yellow pages under Ambulance or First aid. Don't make excuses, u might have to save your childs life, or a family member. Just go and do it and don't leave yourself with the horrible 'WHAT IF I HAD, WOULD ..... STILL BE ALIVE'
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 23/07/2003 13:04
A note for Kathryn(Kathryngriffin) above. If u contact any of the main first aid organisations, they will tell u how to go about becoming an instructor.
 
  monica(monkelly)  Posted: 09/08/2003 23:46
Would it be a good idea that as part of students transition year that basic first aid and life saving would be a priority - most of them go out and do work experience for 2 weeks in a job that they probably have absolutely no interest in - would these 2 weeks not be well spent learning how to save a life?
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 13/08/2003 09:52
i have thought transition years first aid, and it was like beating me head off a brick wall, then someone gave me a great piece of advice, make it relevant to their lives. So, if they started to loose interest, mentioning how 'this could save granny's life or how this could help their little brother who had scalded himself', got their interest, and in teh end, they seemed to learn something. But it has to go beyond school, adults should also learn, it's relatively cheap, last approx. 8 weeks, and could save lives. Also a decent first aid kit in a car is essential, but don't just waste money, go to a local first adi group, tell them what you need and ask them to get it for you, a lot cheaper.
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 30/07/2004 15:25
First Medic First Aid Services is the one to call if you would like any information on first aid training or instructor training
 
  Berni(bofar20)  Posted: 17/11/2004 14:09
Berrick Occupational First Aid Resources also does Instructor Training.
 
  NIITEIKO(AZB33846)  Posted: 01/09/2005 00:29
HEALTH AND SAFETY IS A GENERAL CONCERN.
 
  P.J.(OYS16318)  Posted: 02/09/2005 09:01
I have being involved in the Ambulance service and training since 1987 and over that time I have attended a lot of accidents and medical emergiencies where a First Aider was present and I have always being glad to see them and of their assistance.Nowdays I spend most of my time teaching first aid and I have had past students call me with their stories of how they had helped save a persons life. This makes my job very rewarding. If anyone has any questions on first aid or how to to get trained as a first aider or instructor please feel free to call me or e-mail me : firstmed@eircom.net - 086-2610357
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 05/10/2006 12:26
LTS First Aid Training run Occupational First Aid courses every month in Swords. email Roy Lalor info@lalortraining.ie or phone 01 8494426.
 
  Anonymous   Posted: 05/10/2006 12:29
All the organisations mentioned in the article are government funded charities. Surely their brief is to promote First Aid not run commercial training courses?
 
 
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