10 Basic First Aid Practices That Can Save Lives

10 Basic First Aid Practices That Can Save Lives

Basic first aid is something everyone should know at least a little bit about. Whether you’re becoming a nurse, or just want to know enough to be helpful until professional help arrives, having an idea of how to handle emergency situations is extremely helpful. It can even help save a life if you know what you’re doing.

This doesn’t mean you have to take a ton of courses to help. There are basic things you can learn that will make a bigger difference than you might think. If you’re wondering what you can do to help save a life keep reading. These basic first aid practices can mean the difference between life and death for someone you’re trying to help.

1) Assign duties right away

A situation requiring fast action and first aid can be overwhelming. It can get worse when a lot of people are around and they’re all trying to help. It’s never anyone’s intention to do more harm than good but that’s what will happen when everyone is talking over each other and no one is agreeing on a course of action.

If you are in a situation where someone needs help, the first thing you need to do is start assigning duties to everyone around. Make absolutely sure the first person you point at is the one you’re telling to call 911. Calling 911 should always be your first step in any situation where you’re performing basic first aid until help arrives.

This strategy is so important it’s even used by doctors and nurses in trauma care situations. Everyone is assigned a job and that’s how things proceed. Take a note from the pros and make sure you aren’t letting everyone run around without an idea of what’s going on. Someone calls 911, someone goes to get supplies, someone stays with the patient, etc. Be clear and concise.

Performing chest compressions on a dummy

2) Chest compressions, chest compressions, chest compressions

A lot of people mistakenly believe that rescue breaths are the most important thing when they see someone needing CPR. This is completely false. In fact, unless you’re properly trained in CPR it’s not even recommended to give rescue breaths to a person needing CPR. This is typically called “hands-only” CPR and is very effective.

To give good chest compressions, make sure the person is on their back. Kneel next to them and place the heel of your hand in the middle of their chest. Try to go for the area between their nipples. Cover the hand you have on their chest with your other hand, interlacing your fingers. Press down using straight arms and release. Watch for the chest to rebound when you release.

If the chest doesn’t rebound, you are not giving effective chest compressions, so on your next compression push harder. Make sure you’re keeping your arms straight. You want to use your body weight, not the pressure caused by bending and straightening your elbows repeatedly.

Aim for 100-120 beats per minute. If you aren’t sure how fast that is, go to the beat of the song “Staying Alive” while you’re giving compressions. Continue compressions until help arrives and takes over. If you feel yourself wearing out and someone is there to take over, it’s okay to switch out so compressions can remain at an optimal level at all times.

3) The five and five choking approach

There are a lot of myths out there about how to help a person who is choking. Some people will tell you back blows are not recommended because they will lodge the foreign object deeper in the person’s airway making the problem worse. This isn’t actually true. When it comes to choking remember the “Five and Five” rule.

If someone is able to continue forcibly coughing allow them to do so on their own. If they reach a point where they can no longer talk, laugh, or cry, they are now choking and in need of help immediately. Start with five hard blows to the middle of their back using a flat hand.

Then give five abdominal thrusts (aka the Heimlich Maneuver) before going back to five back blows. To give effective abdominal thrusts, stand behind the choking person and place a fist in the middle of their abdomen, just above their belly button. Wrap your other arm around the person (it’ll look like you’re almost hugging them) and cover your fist with that hand.

With your hands in the right spot quickly push inwards and upwards at the same time, forcefully five times. Repeat the “five and five” tactic until the object is dislodged and the person can breathe again, or help arrives. Whichever happens first.

4) What goes in stays in

Do not ever remove anything that is stuck in a person’s body under any circumstances. There are several reasons you should leave things where they are. First of all, you never know what kind of damage will be caused by removing the object. Something like a knife can cause just as much, if not more, damage when being removed incorrectly.

Another reason to leave things where they are is that sometimes the item stuck in a person’s body is actually keeping them from bleeding so much that they would be beyond help by the time emergency services arrive. So remember, no matter how tempting it is, what goes in stays in until a doctor can safely remove it. No exceptions.

5) Add more gauze, don’t replace it

When someone is bleeding applying direct pressure to the wound is very important. Most people know this and do the right thing in this situation up to a point. When the gauze or cloth you’re using to apply pressure becomes soaked, a lot of people will stop applying pressure to replace the soaked gauze with new fresh gauze. This is not the best way to help a bleeding person.

Constant consistent pressure is the most effective way to slow or stop heavy bleeding. Instead of removing the old gauze, which would cause you to remove pressure even just for a few seconds, just add new gauze on top of the old gauze and continue holding pressure until help arrives. You can keep stacking gauze or cloths as much as you need to, just don’t replace anything you’ve already put on top of the wound.  

6) Consider your own safety too

If you find someone needing help, make sure you’re taking a few seconds to look around. Is the area safe to enter? Are there hazards like a fire that would put you in danger too? Remember, your first goal with basic first aid is always to get trained emergency professionals to the scene as quickly as possible.

If you see someone needing help and you realize that the area is unsafe to enter or get close enough to help, as hard as it might be, do not put yourself in danger. Consider the bigger picture and remember if you get hurt, you won’t be able to help that person anyhow, and you’re giving emergency personnel another patient they may not have been planning for.

If the scene isn’t safe, call 911 and stay put. You can stay on the phone with 911 if you’d like to keep them updated on what you’re seeing, but follow any instructions they give you. Do not put yourself in danger at any point in time. Help is coming as fast as possible.

Heat Illness - Signs, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Prevention

7) Know the signs of heat sickness

Heat can sneak up on you, and things like heat stroke can be very dangerous, especially for a child or elderly person. The best way to help someone in this situation is to try to prevent it before it starts. If you notice someone you’re with is becoming dizzy, nauseated, or mentions a sudden severe headache, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and cool down.

If you can find a shady area (or go indoors with air conditioning) that’s ideal, and help the person cool down by using cold water on their limbs or even the back of their neck. You can also pull any long hair up into a style that isn’t covering the neck so they are getting more are on their body.

If you’ve done all of these things and nothing has improved in about 20-30 minutes it’s time to call a doctor or head to the ER for further treatment. Delaying getting help to see if things get better on their own is not the best choice at this point. Acting quickly when someone is experiencing heat-related symptoms after basic attempts to help is the key to keeping them as safe as possible.

RELATED: Heat Illness: Signs, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Prevention

8) Avoid using tourniquets

Tourniquets are a pretty popular thing you see on TV in rescue situations or dramatic medical shows. It adds a lot of entertainment value to the scene you’re watching but in reality, tourniquets can be quite damaging, especially when someone isn’t a trained medical professional and doesn’t understand the dangers involved.

If someone is bleeding heavily remember what you’ve read about already and keep applying direct pressure to the wound. The only time you would want to consider using an improvised tourniquet is if the person is bleeding so heavily it has become life-threatening. If you think this is the case follow any instructions the 911 operator gives, and go from there.

Do not use things like your belt or tie as tempting as it might seem. They’re not likely to be effective and can cause damage. If you do end up applying a tourniquet make note of the time you placed it on the person you’re helping so doctors know how long blood flow has been restricted to that limb.

When in doubt just keep applying pressure and wait for help to arrive.

9) Do not move an injured person

There is only one exception to this rule. If the person is injured and in danger where they are (like in the middle of a road where cars may not stop) move them as little as possible to get them to a safer area. While moving the person try to keep them as stable as you can, and do not move them one step further than absolutely necessary.

Moving an injured person can cause further injuries because it’s impossible to know what kind of internal damage may have been done. If they are still breathing and conscious, leave them in the same position and spot they are already in and do any first aid you can from that position. Once emergency help arrives they will have things like backboards to safely move the patient.

10) Know hypothermia symptoms

If you’ve been out in the cold weather and someone you’re with starts having issues like slurred speech, no longer shivering or it looks like they are becoming confused and disoriented these are all signs they are experiencing hypothermia. If this happens call 911 right away (as with all other emergent situations you’ve read about) and then proceed with trying to warm them up.

Warm them up slowly by finding a sheltered area or going inside. If they have wet clothes on, replace them with dry clothes or blankets. Do not do things like using a heating lamp or a hot bath. If you’re still waiting for help and further warming is needed, you can use an electric blanket or heat compress on the center of the body.

You can offer warm (not hot) liquids like hot chocolate but never buy into the old wive’s tale that alcohol will help. Keep the person as warm and dry as possible until help arrives.


Knowing these basic tips can make a bigger difference than you realize. This isn’t an exhaustive list of first aid basics, but these are important things to know.

When an emergency happens, remain as calm as you can and never forget your first step should always be to contact 911 to get help on the way as soon as possible. Until they can get to you, keep these tips in mind. Help will be there soon.

Guest author: Ashley Coblentz is a lifestyle blogger and political journalist. After graduating from college, she worked as a Registered Nurse at one of the largest hospitals in South Dakota until deciding to be a full-time mom. She remains very passionate about the nursing profession and often volunteers in her extra time to teach community education classes on first aid and other related topics. She has one amazing child who keeps her on her toes. Who knew 10-year-olds could have so many questions?