Imagine that you’re driving along a rural road and you notice the driver in the car in front of you begins to drive erratically. Suddenly, you watch helplessly as the car goes off the road and into the ditch.
Do you know what to do next?
This scenario happens all too often. Whether you saw the accident happen or you happen to be the first person on the scene, you will find yourself in a similar situation when you least expect. I recommend getting first-aid and CPR certified so that you are prepared for any situation. But, there are ways you can prepare right now. Here are 10 things that you should remember in case you are among the first on the scene of an accident.
1. Ensure your own safety first.
Pull off the road somewhere safe. Make sure your car is out of the road. If it isn’t, then you might cause another car accident when someone else drives by.
Pull into a driveway or onto the shoulder of the road if the shoulder is wide enough. Check to make sure that you can safely get out of your vehicle without injuring yourself.
2. Take a deep breath and think.
It’s very important that you stop and think before you ever leave your vehicle. Assess the situation. Make sure you can safely leave your vehicle, and come up with a plan before you unbuckle and unlock your door. Having a plan of action in place will help you to remain calm and to think things through more rationally.
When our fight or flight response kicks in, it’s harder for us to think clearly. Your brain will be begging you to either prepare for battle or run the other way. Knowing what to do step-by-step before you ever encounter an emergency will help you to react in the best way possible in the moment.
Make sure you know the scene is safe for you to approach. If you’re not sure, then don’t approach. You can’t help anyone if you’re injured.
3. Call for help.
Before you approach the scene of a car accident, call for help. While you are still sitting in your car, pull out your cell phone and dial 9-1-1. If you don’t have cell service where you are, then it’s time to assess your options.
First, think about where you are. Are you familiar with the area? Do you know that you’ll have enough cell signal to call if you go just around the next bend? Or are you in a dead zone for the next quarter of a mile? Is there a home nearby where you could call for help?
Before you leave the scene to call for help, let the person (or people) involved in the car accident know that you’re going to call for help and that you’ll be right back. Then use your best judgment to choose the quickest and safest route to calling for help.
4. Assess those involved.
Once you’ve called for help, take a look at those involved in the car accident. Is everyone alert and responding to you and your questions? Is everyone out of the vehicle and walking around?
You should never move an injured person unless they are in a life-threatening situation and moving them is the only way to save their life. The reason for this is that the body does a great job of hiding injury when adrenaline is still pumping. The person involved in the accident may have injuries that that you can’t see and they can’t feel yet. By moving them, you can make those injuries much worse and even life-threatening.
The same applies to unconscious people—never move an unconscious person unless their life is in peril by staying put.
Pay close attention to those who are sitting, walking, or wandering around quietly. Many times those who have a head injury will appear to be okay, but they aren’t. Head injuries cause confusion. These people are at risk for wandering away from the scene, or walking into traffic.
Until help arrives, pay attention and ask questions. If you’re asking the injured parties questions, you’ll be more likely to notice any changes in their consciousness.
5. Watch for signs of shock.
Shock happens when a trauma has occurred and the body responds by lowering the heart rate or blood pressure. Most people who experience shock have had a serious injury. So if you are waiting for help with someone who has been seriously injured, watch for:
- Cool, clammy skin
- Pale or ashen skin
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Enlarged pupils
- Weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness or fainting
- Sudden confusion, agitation, or anxiety
When a person goes into shock, often times without medical intervention their heart will stop. Provide CPR if their heart stops or they stop breathing and become unresponsive.
6. Keep them comfortable.
As you wait for help, try to keep the injured person comfortable. If you have a blanket and it’s cool out, then cover them up. If it’s hot outside, then make sure to keep them as cool as possible. Offer water if you have any.
7. Ask their name.
Talk to them. Distract them from the situation while you wait. Be friendly.
8. Be helpful to the paramedics.
When help does arrive, offer any information you might have. If the driver in the car accident was swerving and driving erratically for miles before the accident, let them know. If the driver seemed to be fine one minute and then confused the next, let them know. They work best knowing the details that might affect their patient’s health.
9. Stick around.
The police will want to talk to you. Even as the driver or people involved in the accident are whisked away in the ambulance, stay put. Offer a statement to police so they can determine what happened.
10. Know your limits.
If you faint at the sight of blood, then don’t look if there is blood. You can’t help anyone if you’re unconscious. If you aren’t a nurse or a doctor, don’t try to bandage up any wounds. If needed and you know you can do it, put pressure on any wounds that are bleeding heavily.
Most car accidents end with a repair bill and a short trip to the hospital. Others, though, end in death. Be prepared for any outcome and understand that there are some things that no one can do.
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