Now that spring has finally arrived, many of us are heading to the range for another season of shooting. Firearms have been cleaned and inspected, stocks of ammo purchased or loaded, targets ready to be mounted and cleaning kits resupplied. We’re all set to go—or are we?
How many of us have thought about—or even planned—for a medical emergency on the range, let alone while we are at home, driving in the car, or even mowing the lawn? The fact is most people simply do not think about what to do should they or someone near them sustain a sudden, severe life-threatening injury.
Residents of the United States are the beneficiaries of one of the most extensive and professional Emergency Medical Service (EMS) systems in the world. We are conditioned from an early age to call 911 when in trouble and know that help will be on the way quickly. Unfortunately, this is typically the extent of first aid training for all too many of us. Many times a rapid EMS response is exactly what happens, especially if you are in an urban or large suburban area with a well-developed EMS system. Average response times in those settings range from 2 to 10 minutes, and it is easy to become complacent. However, even in the best of systems, demand can overwhelm available resources and delay the arrival of police, firefighters, and paramedics.
However, even in the best of systems, demand can overwhelm available resources and delay the arrival of police, firefighters, and paramedics.For example, numerous isolated medical emergency calls received by dispatchers at the same moment and serious motor vehicle accidents involving multiple vehicles with many injured are common occurrences which may delay an emergency response to your location.
Of course, we must now also consider tragic events such as those in Boston, San Bernadino and– most recently—Manchester, England as possible situations that may delay response of rescuers. What about if you live in a rural township, or are in a remote location on a hunting trip? Those areas are typically staffed by dedicated volunteer fire departments with firefighters and paramedics that are not sitting at the station waiting to be called out. In that case, once a 911 call is received personnel are paged by dispatchers and then travel in their vehicles to the station to retrieve the necessary vehicles and equipment needed to respond to your request for emergency assistance. Their arrival at your location can easily exceed 30 minutes.
Even in the best of EMS systems with very rapid response times, there are some injuries that cannot be left alone for even 2 minutes. For example, a tragic incident occurred in July of 2016 at an indoor shooting facility in Sarasota, Florida in which a teenage boy was struck by a pistol round after an accidental discharge by his father. The bullet struck the young man in the neck severing a large blood vessel. Although an EMS unit arrived at the scene within 5 minutes, the victim’s immediate blood loss was so severe that paramedics and emergency department staff were unable to save his life. It’s very easy to imagine what presumably happened—shock and confusion with no one knowing exactly what to do. Likely, there was no first aid kit readily available with items that are designed to effectively treat this type of life-threatening injury—specifically tourniquets, hemostatic dressings, and trauma dressings– let alone someone trained to provide the immediate and focused emergency care required to stop severe bleeding. The point is, in order to provide yourself with the best opportunity to survive a severe injury you need to plan, equip and train.
All first aid kits are NOT created equal. Many people think that they can purchase a first aid kit from Cabela’s, Dunhams, or any number of online vendors and believe they are good to go. The fact is most of the first aid kits offered to the general public are meant to treat very minor injuries such as small lacerations and abrasions, which certainly are not life-threatening.
We need to be prepared for the worst case situation; those injuries in which aggressive treatment in the first few seconds and minutes make the difference between survival and death. Most importantly, it is not just having a well-equipped first aid kit but also having the training to know when and how to use it, just as mounting a Nightforce ATACR scope on your rifle alone does not make you a sniper for Seal Team 6.
All members of the military—regardless of specialty– receive intensive instruction in individual first aid skills because the military learned long ago that there are many injuries that simply cannot wait for the arrival of a combat medic to treat. That is a doctrine that we should all subscribe to. Make the commitment this shooting season to be prepared to save yourself or someone near you in the event of a tragic injury.
Remember that handling firearms does involve a fundamental risk and even the most safety conscious shooters can have an accident. Don’t be complacent and trust that emergency assistance is always a quick 911 call away. Take a first aid class that specifically trains you on how to treat life-threatening injuries such as severe bleeding wounds, compromised airways, open chest wounds and exposed bone fractures through the use of tourniquets, hemostatic dressings and chest seals.
Use the knowledge gained from that training to obtain an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) like the one issued to our military and make it readily available at the range, in your car, and at your home. And be prepared to use it.