The scene of an emergency is often chaotic. Friends, family, concerned bystanders and first responders are reacting simultaneously. The environment surrounding the scene may also pose a risk to the victim and those responding. Putting yourself in harm’s way to help someone who is ill or injured can make the situation worse, leading to more chaos and potentially more victims. Your safety comes first and is of the upmost importance when responding to an emergency.
Check the Scene
Always check the scene for hazards before responding to an emergency. Common hazards include: traffic, fire or smoke, downed electric wires, open water or strong currents, and many other scenarios. Look for immediate dangers. If the scene does not look safe, stay away.
As you are responding, continue to evaluate the scene for new hazards. If the location becomes unsafe at any time, remove yourself from the scene.
Protect Yourself from Infection
When providing care, rescuers may be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious body fluids. Viruses like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be transmitted when the blood or body fluids from an infected person or a contaminated object enter another person’s body. This can happen through a direct splash into the rescuer’s eyes, mouth or nose or enter through an opening in the rescuer’s skin (ex: cut, scab or rash).
Although the risk of disease transmission is very low, it’s still important to protect yourself. Treat all victims as potential carriers and assume all moist body substances are infectious.
Wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
Disposable gloves are the most commonly used barrier. Maintain a supply of non-latex gloves in your First Aid Kit and inspect gloves for tears when putting them on. If damaged, replace them immediately. Other forms of PPE include masks, gowns and eye protection.
Use a CPR barrier
If giving rescue breaths, use a CPR mask or shield with a one-way valve to minimize direct mouth-to-mouth contact. These can be stored in your car glove compartment or secured in a rescue keychain, making it easily available at all times.
Wash your hands and dispose of PPE properly
Thoroughly wash your hands immediately after glove removal. Place contaminated PPE in a biohazard bag or a leak-proof container.
If you don’t have access to PPE during an emergency, you can always improvise. Use plastic bags, a towel or other barrier to help avoid direct contact.