Sadly it’s that very instinct that causes injury and sometimes death to hundreds of rescuers each year. Hundreds more find themselves in a situation that also requires rescue after realizing out too late they cannot deal with the situation they are now part of.
It’s very difficult to overcome the urge to rush to assist those in trouble particularly when time is of the essence. The last thing on your mind at a time such as that is how your children will cope without a father, who will look after everyone without a mother but as selfish as it seems, thinking these things can make you stop and think of the two most important things in a rescue situation. Firstly is it actually safe to attempt to execute a rescue? And secondly do you have the capabilities to do so?
Just to add to the problems there has been a spate of ‘fake’ accidents in the UK of late, situations set up to lure in unsuspecting rescuers who are then robbed, and worse if they fight back. This is not being publicised for fear of escalating the problem, putting ideas into the heads of those who wouldn’t have thought about it previously. These incidents are usually conducted off the main track, in more isolated spaces, dimly lit side streets and generally in places less likely to be witnessed by a passerby. If someone is whimpering or asking for help from a dimly lit alley, or from behind a dumpster, or someone runs up to you telling you their friend needs help “over there” “behind those bushes” or anywhere else not in plain sight be aware that it might be a set up and act accordingly. Stay where you are, call the police and/or emergency services and wait for their arrival. If it is a genuine emergency you waving your arms about will attract them to the area far quicker than them having to find the casualty. If it was not a genuine emergency you go home unharmed. Win win.
With regard to genuine emergencies the first thing you do is get more help, always call for help. Even if the emergency services will not be there for a while and the situation is going down hill having others to assist lessens the risk to all involved.
Once you have effected the rescue, any rescue, and are in a safe place it’s time for A B C. Airway. Breathing. Circulation. It is impossible, and would be irresponsible to attempt to teach this in a post on a blog. Get on a first aid course and get the hands on experience required to make you as successful as possible at using basic life support techniques.
Water rescue causes more rescuer deaths than any other. Try to get the victim out in any way you can that does not involve one rescuer going to their aid. Human chains can be formed, clothing can be pooled to form ropes if other people are around. Several people will be more able to assist a drowning man than you alone. A person in survival mode has tremendous strength that is fueled by panic and blind terror. It is highly likely that unless they are very much smaller than you, or they are unconscious that their struggles will injure you, and in the case of water emergencies, they will grab whatever solid object they can, often the head and shoulders of a rescuer, taking that person under with them. If you just have to go into water to effect a rescue try to throw something to them, they will calm down almost immediately when they have something to hold and that something should be anything but you. If you have managed to get an object to them, pull them to shore using the object if at all possible, this keeps you at arms length. If you intend getting them to shore by physically grabbing them always approach from behind, swim on your side whilst pulling on their clothing at arms length. Always keep your head and shoulders out of grabbing reach. Once in a position of safety,
in a responsive victim reassure and make as comfortable as you can until help arrives in an unresponsive victim ABC.
It happens every year, people walk on ponds and lakes and fall through the ice. People die trying to rescue their dogs that have fallen through ice. We have all heard of these cases. If you stop and think, it is sensible to assume that if they have fallen through the ice is also unlikely to hold your weight. There is no safe way to walk or move across ice that has already been weakened by someone falling through it. Spreading your weight by lying down and wriggling across is safer than walking but if you get there without falling through hauling the victim out is another matter, the weight of both you and the casualty will more than likely plunge you both into the water leading to the pair of you needing rescuing. If you really do have to effect a rescue take off as many of your clothes as possible, by definition it will be cold, you will need dry clothing to put on afterwards. Crack the ice at the edge of the water, take a belt if you have it with you, if not, the most unessential item of clothing you have, a tee shirt maybe. Continue to break the ice making your way to the casualty. When you are close enough to them that the item you have will reach them hold onto one end and slide it across the ice between you and them. When they have it pull them towards you, the weakened ice will break. Doing it this way keeps you out of reach for as long as possible, getting you both into shallower water before contact is made. There is a likelihood you are both heading for hypothermia at this point. Dress your self in your dry clothes as quickly as possible. Run on the spot and move your arms in wide circles to encourage blood flow. Shivering is good as it generates heat, five times more heat than a non-shivering body. If the casualty is able encourage movement. You can cover the victim with your jacket, in the case of a child, wrap them as best you can in your thickest item of clothing, this prevents further heat loss. Once you are in position of safety in a conscious victim reassure and make as comfortable as possible until help arrives in an unconscious victim ABC.
If ever you come across a fisherman, or someone with a kite nearby who is unconscious DO NOT TOUCH THEM…LOOK UP. A fishing line or kite touching power lines and electrocuting the person on the other end is not uncommon. If the fishing rod or kite string is still in their hand and you touch them you will be electrocuted as the current moves from them to you. Electrocution causes the muscles of the hands to contract meaning the person cannot let go of the item they are holding so the electricity will course through them until the circuit is broken. It is advisable not to intervene in these cases as a small breeze can blow the sting or line onto you almost ensuring your death. It is unlikely the casualty has not survived the incident. If you are CERTAIN the casualty is no longer part of the circuit, that is the rod is lying some distance from them still approach with caution, electricity can arc over several feet, particularly if you are in or near water.
In indoor situations turn off the power at the mains. The person will topple over if they were in a sitting or upright position as their muscles relax when the electricity stops flowing. Look for any signs of liquid and if present stay even further away as water conducts electricity very effectively.
Lightening strikes on individuals also caused injury or death by electrocution and kill exactly the same way. By interfering with the electrical activity in the heart.
Static electricity can kill. There have been several cases of static electricity causing explosions at petrol stations as people fill their tanks. In hot dry weather the rubbing of you clothes on fabric seats builds up static. If this discharges near the vapour as you are filling the tank there will be an explosion and fire. Make it a habit to discharge static by touching the metal of the car before you fill the tank. Okay you get a bit of a tingle but it’s better than dying of burns caused by a fireball. It affects women more than men and this is thought to be due to women wearing more man-made fibers than men, particularly underwear which is often synthetic.
You cannot afford to make a mistake with electricity, particularly out of doors when there is no possibility of turning off the supply. If the victim is conscious encourage them to move towards you rather than you moving towards them. If they are unconscious stay back and let the emergency services deal with it. Domestically, if you KNOW the mains supply is turned off, wait one minute for any residual current in the victim to dissipate to earth before approaching. Commence ABC.
These are just three examples of situations where rescuers often become victims, there are many, many more. The point is that you need to be situationally aware before attempting to carry out a rescue of any kind. Analyse what you see before taking anymore action than ringing the emergency services. Someone dying through a tragic accident is terrible, a rescuer and the original victim dying is a travesty.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.