Disaster First Aid: User and Instructor Endoresments
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Life Lines Articles - Disaster First Aid

C.E.R.T. Search & Rescue:
Life-saving Learning for Regular People
by David Baum

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I took a Search and Rescue class from a Seattle firefighter on Saturday. Hard hat, knee pads, crawling around in a darkened room strewn with furniture and fellow students pretending to be victims. Fun, fun, fun! No flashlights! (When I was a victim, someone stepped on my head. I was not injured.)

I learned:
• Fifty percent (or more) of rescues after a disaster are done by non-trained civilians. People simply help other people who are nearby, and take them out of danger. This is the "Injured Not-Trapped" category.

• Thirty percent of rescues are in the "Non-Structural Entrapment" category. Victims are trapped under fallen furniture or in piles of debris, or the doors are jammed shut. These rescues are what people like me are trained for.

• Fifteen percent of rescues are categorized as "Void-Space Non-Structural Entrapment." Here, the building has partially collapsed, creating "voids" or spaces between collapsed floors and walls where people might survive. Local fire departments and other professional responders can handle these.

• The remaining five percent of victims are "Entombed," that is, they are trapped under the walls and structural parts of a building that has totally collapsed. Only highly-trained teams with specialized equipment can do these rescues.

If you can get folks out within 30 minutes, they have a 91% chance of surviving. If you get them out within 24 hours, the survival rate is 81%. After one day, people start to die from bleeding, shock, and internal injuries, so by day 2 the survival rate is only 37%. On day 3, the survival rate holds steady at 34%, but by day 4 it drops to 19% because people have been without water for too long. By day 5, only 7% of the victims will survive. After that, you switch from "rescue" mode to "recovery" mode (recovering bodies, that is).

On a related topic, the instructor confirmed what I had already heard: After an earthquake, the Fire Department does not respond to 911 calls from civilians. They've got other things to do. First, they check their own station and equipment for damage. Then they drive a pre-set route to do a "windshield survey" (a.k.a. Damage Assessment). Then they respond to "high-hazard" incidents like major fires or hazardous material spills, and to "high-casualty" areas like downtown buildings and schools. Also, they need to check major roads and bridges to ensure that their equipment can travel safely.

Bottom line: They will not show up at individual residences for days, or maybe for weeks if it's a regional disaster. That's why we must learn to respond for ourselves in our neighborhoods.

On the topic of neighborhood response, the instructor clarified an important tactical issue that has confused me for months. Someone asked this question: "When the Search and Rescue team finds someone who's injured, do they give first aid?" The answer was: "Send First Aid along. Two and two if you can (i.e. two Search and Rescue people and two First Aid people) but at least one person from the First Aid team."

This has been an open question, because the (C.E.R.T.) documentation says that the First Aid Team should be setting up a treatment area, not moving around the neighborhood. I've always thought that the Search and Rescue folks would need a First Aid person with them to stabilize the wounded so they could be carried to the treatment area, and it turns out that idea is correct. (The challenge is to recruit and train enough volunteer First Aid people (in your community) to set up a treatment area AND enough to go with the S&R team.)

Next week, I will attend a "live fire" exercise where we practice using a fire extinguisher.

David Baum is a neighborhood organizer and general good guy who has set himself the challenge of getting the job done (as above). He is also a Theatre Arts and Portrait photographer in Bellevue Washington.

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