The massacre in Las Vegas yesterday, where hundreds were killed and injured, has highlighted the need to immediately aid a wounded person. I think those of us who care about preparedness for emergencies need to consider carrying, or having immediate access to, an Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, to enable us to do so. The acronym was originally derived from the US Army’s Improved First Aid Kit (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format), but has since expanded to cover a range of options.
There are many IFAK’s available, from many manufacturers. You’ll have to look through the assortment and make your own selection, based on your skill level and budget. If you have no training in first aid or emergency response, I strongly recommend that you get some before buying an IFAK. It’s always better to know more about what you’re buying. The Red Cross and St. John Ambulance offer probably the best-known general first aid courses (I trained with St. John Ambulance in South Africa). They don’t focus on mass casualty events or weapons-related injuries, but the principles remain the same. You can add to that foundation by taking more advanced emergency-response-related courses, such as this one (which is highly regarded) – but be careful in choosing them. There are many private sector companies and organizations offering such training, but some appear to be out to make as much money as possible from their students, rather than give them the best possible training. I can’t possibly cover all of them in a short article like this. You’ll have to do your homework, and make the best choice you can.
Some very knowledgeable bloggers have offered articles describing some first aid needs. (To cite just one example, Aesop offers what he calls his ‘College of Medical Knowledge‘, a collection of posts on the subject. Highly recommended reading.) However, I’m afraid reading about the subject just isn’t good enough to give you more than an overview. Hands-on training, particularly in cleaning and bandaging wounds and performing CPR, is essential.
Once you know what you’re doing and what you need, you can make an informed decision about which IFAK to buy, and figure out for yourself whether it’s worth its price. Many people prefer to build up their own first aid kit over time, rather than pay for a ready-packaged one. I think that’s fine for general first aid use, but when it comes to IFAK’s, which are critical first responder tools, I prefer to look at the top-of-the-line kits from truly knowledgeable vendors, and save up for one of them. They usually cost much more than those from more “commercial” competitors, but there’s a reason for that – they use the best materials, and are usually put together by those who’ve “been there and done that”. To me, that’s worth the money; and, judging by the number of first-response personnel and agencies that I personally trust who carry them, it is to them, too. YMMV.
There are certain IFAK vendors whose products are preferred in the EMS and first responder communities (fire, police, etc.). You’ll find them discussed in online forums, on mailing lists, etc. I find that guidance very helpful. If you can access it, all well and good. If not, I suggest you find out what your local first responders are using, and consider carrying the same or a similar kit. The reason is simple; you may not be able to deal with injuries yourself, but they can. Their own kits will run out in short order if faced with multiple casualties. If you’re on the scene and can hand them an IFAK, they’ll be able to do much more with it than most of us would. If it’s an IFAK with which they’re already familiar, so much the better. After all, the life they save with that kit might be your own!
To learn more about IFAK’s, try these two articles:
There are other such articles out there, but, as always, beware any article that’s filled with specific product recommendations and links to buy them. They may be very good . . . or they may be trying to make money off you. Let the buyer beware!
EDITED TO ADD: Aesop read this article, and in response has kindly put up a post of his own on how to use the contents of your IFAK. Go read it. The man knows whereof he speaks.