What To Do in a First Aid Emergency

Key tips: • Stay calm. • Check the scene and child. • Call 911

In as little as six hours, parents can gain skills and confidence to handle most kids’ medical emergencies. The American Red Cross and local instructors offer pediatric CPR and first aid courses.

In addition to this training, you can cope best with emergencies by staying calm and taking a few common sense actions.

First Steps

Regardless of your level of training, here are basic yet critical actions to consider when faced with any emergency.

• Recognize an emergency. This does not require a checklist! The smell of smoke or unusual fumes or odors, screams, loud noises or an individual showing signs of distress or not moving are all indications that something is wrong. Don’t wait to act.

• Stay calm and focused. If you lose it, chances are everyone will lose it! Staying calm allows you to think about your training, your actions, your safety and the safety of the victim.

CPR and First Aid Training

The American Red Cross conducts first aid training and CPR courses. To learn more, contact your local chapter.

302-656-6630 www.redcrossdelmarva.org

New Jersey
Burlington County

Camden County

Gloucester County

Lower Bucks County

Southeastern PA

• Avoid running. Running creates the risk of falling or running into someone else while trying to reach a victim. If you run to the scene, it can take extra time to catch your breath, hampering communication with the victim.

• Check the scene. Make sure it is safe to approach the area. Look for signs of what happened and check to see if there really is an emergency. What needs to be done next?

• Check the child. Look for life-threatening injury or illness. If the victim appears to be unresponsive, tap and shout to see if he will wake up. If the child does not respond, check for breathing and if necessary, begin the steps of CPR. If you are alone with a child or infant who is not breathing, give five cycles or two minutes of CPR before calling 911.

• Call 911. This should be your first priority when there is a medical emergency. If someone else is making the call, ask her to return to the scene to verify that the call was made. If additional people are present, have someone go outside to direct the fire department or medics to the scene. If you’re alone with a sick or injured child, make the call immediately (unless administering two minutes of CPR). As soon as you get off the telephone, unlock the door so the rescuers can get in.

What Happened? What Hurts?

Frequently, a child’s condition can change in those few minutes before the medics arrive. Shock can occur quickly, causing confusion or even unconsciousness. For some children, the sounds of sirens or the sight of firefighters causes them to cry and they become unable or unwilling to communicate.

Parents who take quick action by asking questions and checking for injuries can give medical responders valuable information needed to treat and transport the child to the hospital. If a possibly injured child is conscious and communicating, check for visible signs of injury. If none are apparent, yet the child is in distress, immediately do the following.

Approach the child from the feet and move gradually. An injured child is already frightened and getting right in her face can add to her fears. This is particularly true if the child is not your own. Look for obvious signs of trauma such as unusual breathing, severe bleeding or a deformity of the leg or arm.

• Immediately ask the child what happened. Perhaps you found him lying at the bottom of some steps and assumed he was injured from a fall. But he says he felt dizzy and then fell. Now you know you’re dealing with some type of fainting, not a slip-and-fall accident. Most children are not going to give you that kind of information unless you ask.

• Ask what a “hurt” feels like. It’s not uncommon for a child to say her arm hurts because she sees blood or a tear on her shirtsleeve. Children often focus on what they see and not always what they feel.

• Do a quick body scan. Ask the child about areas of the body, moving down from head to toe. Does your head hurt? Can you see me? How about hearing me? Can you breathe through your nose? Can you open your mouth so I can check your teeth? Does your neck hurt? Can you lift your arms? Hold my fingers and squeeze with both hands. Take a good, deep breath for me. Any pain?

Continue the questioning until you have covered every part of the child’s body. It’s possible that your scan will detect additional injuries, such as a sharp, severe pain when the child takes a deep breath or paralysis in one foot when you asked the child to wiggle his toes.

By following these basic guidelines and taking a CPR and pediatric first aid class, parents can truly be prepared to face that emergency we all hope never comes.

Avoid Home Remedies

Parents often address a child’s medical emergency “the way Mom did it” when they were a kid.

First aid instructors often have to correct participants who blurt out statements like “my Mom always put butter on a burn” or “she made us tilt our head back if we had a nosebleed.” Sometimes traditional remedies are wrong and can even have negative consequences for your child.

Here are a few examples of misguided care and what should really be done for the injured child. 



Wrong: Applying creams, lotions and ointments. Some petroleum-based products or home remedies such as butter can cause infection and scar skin tissue.

Right: Cooling the burn with cold water then lightly covering it. Cold, but not ice-cold water cools the burn, relieves the pain and prevents further tissue damage. Covering the burn prevents bacteria from entering the body at the burn site.


Wrong: Pinching the bridge of the nose, tilting the head back and applying ice to the back of neck. Right: Tilting the head forward & pinching the nose at the nostrils for up to 15 minutes. A victim who has his head tilted back will swallow the blood, which can lead to vomiting.

Right: Tilting the head forward & pinching the nose at the nostrils for up to 15 minutes.


Wrong: Rinsing the mouth with salt water and alerting the tooth fairy. Today, dentists are transplanting permanent teeth that have been knocked out.

Right: Rinsing the tooth, placing it in a cup of milk and calling the dentist.  Placing the tooth in calcium rich milk helps preserve the tooth until a dentist can see the child.


Wrong: Trying to pry a splinter out with a needle. Removing a splinter by digging into a child with a needle only increases the risk of infection and is extremely painful to the child.

Right: Placing duct tape over the splinter and allowing the adhesive to pull it out.

John Schmidt is a former firefighter and American Red Cross first aid instruction supervisor. He teaches CPR & pediatric first aid throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania. www.safetyoutsourcing.net

Categories: Health & Nutrition, Medical