ON THE ROAD
A Good Time to Offer First-Aid Training for All
By JOE SHARKEY
Published: January 17, 2011 The New York Times
WHEN the shooting rampage happened here, I was on the other side of town. But it occurred to me afterward that even if I had been at the horrific scene outside that Safeway supermarket, I would have been of no help whatsoever.
The last formal first-aid training I had was when I was in the Boy Scouts during the Eisenhower administration. So this seems a good time to reflect on how we can be prepared to lend a hand in dire situations.
On that fateful day, we saw how so many bystanders, ordinary citizens suddenly confronted with a stunning emergency, were prepared to literally hit the ground and assist gravely wounded victims with first aid, even while the stench of gunfire hung in the air.
As business travelers, we expose ourselves to a wide range of environments and circumstances. We presume that we are always in control, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we vaguely sense that things can abruptly go very wrong. Sudden illness, violent crime, an airplane disaster, epidemic, terrorism, tsunami, earthquake are all possible (though statistically unlikely) as business travel spans ever-wider areas of the globe.
In Tucson, lives literally were saved by the immediate response of a surprising number of ordinary citizens who happened to have been trained in basic first aid.
Their stories have been told, but I was especially taken with that of one citizen: an office worker named Anna Ballis, who had gone to the Safeway to buy beef broth and ended up crawling on the ground and saving lives before the emergency medical teams arrived. Only months earlier, Ms. Ballis had taken a refresher first-aid course through her work.
Many companies, to their credit, offer employee training in first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Airlines also train flight attendants in these techniques, of course. But lots of business travelers, myself included, who may be quite willing to help when others lie stricken, simply lack basic first-aid skills that can make the difference between life and death in those initial minutes before trained emergency medical responders arrive.
“You have to be willing to engage, and it seems as if the people of Tucson have a culture, a strong community sense that, hey, if someone is in dire need, I will jump in,” said Dr. Myles Druckman, a physician who is the vice president for medical assistance in the Americas for International SOS, the global medical emergency-response and security company.
As we saw here, willingness in an emergency matters a great deal more when coupled with basic skills. “If you have someone who can follow appropriate directions, like hold the neck this way, do chest-compressions this way, you are way ahead of the curve” before emergency technicians and physicians enter the picture, Dr. Druckman said.
First-aid training is simple. For years, corporations have trained employees as initial responders for in-house emergencies, and the trend is growing to ensure that business travelers also have basic skills.
“There is a lot more general preparedness,” Dr. Druckman said. “With all of these recent incidents, whether terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the H1N1 pandemic, many organizations really are taking it to heart and saying, how do we better prepare?”
At some companies, he said, first-aid and emergency-response training is now “part of the orientation for the international traveler.”
Obviously, when something truly horrible happens in front of you, or to you, he said, “it’s a shock to the system, and you never know how people are going to react. Sometimes the people who you wouldn’t suspect rise to the occasion. But the more training people have had, the more they have prethought what they would do in an emergency, and how they would do it, the better it is.”
First-aid training was once mainly offered through community organizations. Schools now do a good job, but in recent years the focus for adults has moved more into corporations. “More and more people are getting it through work as opposed to other associations they were involved with,” Dr. Druckman said, adding, “In an ideal world, everyone would be first-aid trained.”
Business travelers spend many long hours waiting in airports. So given all of that spare time, and given the amount of underperforming retail space in airports, why not set up a national network of permanent first-aid training centers in airports, perhaps under the aegis of the Red Cross?
I’ll let you know how that idea flies.