Emergency – what to do when the first responder is you

Saving someone from a burning vehicle...
Illustration by Sean Hudson
Date:23 June 2011 Tags:,

In an emergency, the first step is to call 10111, but the actions you take while professional help is on the way can mean the difference between life and death. Here’s how to step up from innocent bystander to instant hero. By Kalee Thompson

Save someone from a burning car
It’s late, and you’re driving on a desolate highway. You see an orange glow in the distance – fire. Soon, you arrive at the scene. A car with a crushed front end has flames spilling from under the bonnet, and someone’s trapped inside. You dial 10111, and then…

Create a safe zone, says Ron Moore, a fireman who has taught extraction techniques to first responders for 30-plus years. Many people die every year because of secondary collisions. So block the site with your own car and switch on the hazard lights.

Arm yourself with a wheel spanner and, if possible, a fire extinguisher, and don gloves and protective clothing.

Walk – don’t run – towards the crash. Running can cause an adrenaline and endorphin rush, and kill clear thinking.

Fight the fire. Stand uphill and upwind of the flames and discharge your extinguisher along the base of the fire. No extinguisher? For a small blaze, scoop up sand to snuff the flames. Above all, be realistic. “You don’t use a squirt gun to shoot an elephant,” Moore says.

Gain access. If the doors are locked, smash the window furthest from the victim by striking it low in the corner with your wheel spanner.

Free the victim. Normally, you shouldn’t move a crash victim, but if fire still threatens, hook your hands under his armpits, cradle his head and neck in your forearms, and gently drag him to safety. Keep the victim’s head and torso aligned as you move him, in case of a head or spinal injury.

Get your hands on a copy of the July 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics – on sale on 20 June – to find out how to deal with other emergency situations.

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