One of the first things that law enforcement personnel, firefighters, the military, and others who launch themselves into danger on a regular basis are taught is scene safety. This is because the most important person in a rescue--you--needs to be protected from whatever caused the person you are rescuing to go down in the first place. Besides the fact that your boss thinks you are a nice guy and doesn't want anything bad to happen to you, the bottom line is that a lot of money and effort has gone into your training and that is a fairly large investment to lose over a bad call.
Everyone needs to be concerned over scene safety, whether you are a rescue professional or the average guy on the street who comes across an emergent situation and reacts. Here's some pointers:
- Don't panic or go running in to save someone without thinking first.
- Call 911. It is best to have help on the way before you get knee deep in a rescue effort (ie: you don't want to start CPR and then remember that you probably should call 911 and have to stop resuscitation efforts to do so).
- Stop and look over the scene. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Your five senses will provide your first information about the scene.
- Are there any obvious safety concerns? For example, in a car accident on an icy road, don't immediately get out of your car to help because other cars could slide on the ice and run into YOU. If you think you have stumbled upon a drug lab, stay out--the chemical soup in these things can kill you. If bullets are still whizzing by, get to a safe location immediately--rescue can wait.
- Note that your two biggest dangers will be the environment (cars driving by, trees falling, power lines flapping about, etc) and people (people on drugs behave erratically, domestic violence situations can rapidly deteriorate, highly emotional situations can make people act out in all kinds of often negative ways).
- What happened? Try to ascertain this from bystanders then consider what your next steps should be. If the person got shocked by live electrical wires, what happened to the wires? You don't want to get yourself electrocuted if they are still live. If someone was shot, where is the shooter now? When the scene is safe you can then begin rescue efforts such as CPR or providing other basic care.
- Work in teams if possible. In a precarious situation, it is best to have additional people to help out (ie: in the case of a car accident/drowning/etc you can tell one person to call 911, have one person control the scene, one person to assist with the rescue, etc).
- Clear the area. Keep bystanders out of danger (and/or out of a potential crime scene) by having everyone move away from the immediate area.
- Move yourself and the victim to a safe area if necessary. In the case of a car accident, leave the person where they are unless there is an immediate danger (ie: they are in a car that is on fire). If the person may have a head, neck, or back injury, do everything you can NOT to move them until professional help arrives.
- Carry and wear PPEs (personal protection equipment) if possible. If you will be dealing with blood and bodily fluids, wear gloves, eye protection, a face mask, etc. In this day and age you don't know what kind of diseases people are carrying. I keep these items in my car emergency kit just in case.
- Don't do anything that you are not trained to do. There is an art and a science to getting someone out of a squished car--if you have not been trained to do this and don't have the equipment to do this, don't do this; wait for help to arrive. If someone is stuck up a tree or on a roof and they are not in immediate danger of falling, for example, it is best to just talk to them and keep them calm until help arrives rather then trying to get them a ladder to climb down on, they may fall and then you will have a bigger problem.
- As a bystander with no particular rescue skills, the most important things you can do are: call for help, provide immediate first aid (CPR, help stop bleeding), remain calm and try to keep the victim calm as well, and ensure the scene is safe (ie: by directing traffic away from the incident or pulling the victim from a burning house if you can do so with no injury to yourself).
- Don't put yourself in obvious danger. It is not worth risking your life to save someone who is drowning if you have no idea how to perform a water rescue. The best thing you can do is throw them a rope or flotation device but resist the urge to jump in too or then there will be two people who need to be rescued.