First aid: don’t be the dummy

Meet the ambulance halfway

In the bush you may need to meet the ambulance halfway when trouble strikes.

Sam Talbot

Recently my workplace asked me to do a first-aid course. This was partly so our office could have an extra First Aid Officer and so that I could write this story. As fate would have it, in the time between registering to take part in my first-aid course and the actual course, I was on my lunch break when a young man collapsed on the side of the road. Suddenly I found myself on the phone to 000 while attempting to block traffic on a busy road while the young man had a seizure. Luckily his grandmother was also there, but neither of us knew what to do and it was only the second time in my life I had had to dial 000. It was a scary situation made all the scarier because all three of us were confused and didn’t know even the most basic thing to do next.

Of course, these are the sort of situations first aid is designed around. Having even a basic idea of what needs to be done could make the difference between life and death, plus being a helpful member of the community.

And for those of you who are concerned about liability when it comes to providing medical assistance to strangers, you can rest easy knowing most Australian states are covered by ‘Good Samaritan Acts’. This act generally ensures people who step forward to provide emergency medical assistance are not held legally liable for their actions provided they act in good faith. Of course, you typically won’t be held accountable for an act of omission but the things you learn in first aid are very simple and the simple things are enough to save lives.

During my course I spoke with Kier Pitt, who is the Manager of Education and Training Quality at St John SA, one of the larger first-aid providers in South Australia. She told me that their mission is to make first aid a part of everyone’s life and that at least one person in every household should be trained in first aid.

“Even children can become lifesavers – our First Aid in Schools program therefore trains primary school kids in lifesaving skills, so they can act when faced with an emergency,” she said.

“First-aid skills are even more important in settings where the response by medical help may be delayed, as is the case in many regional locations and remote areas.”

This explains why a portion of my first-aid course was spent learning how to splint a compound fracture and how to wrap up someone’s leg after a snake bite. In reality though, if I am in the city and someone has a bone sticking out of their leg, all I am going to do is make sure the bleeding is under control. I am not going to attempt a splint because an ambulance is not far away and even after completing my first-aid course I can’t help but feel I would be doing more harm than good.

However, it is clear that people who spend a lot of time in the great Australian outdoors would find first-aid skills like these invaluable. When there is no ambulance 10 minutes away or when it really is up to you to move a patient from a remote campsite, it’s a completely different situation. This is really when first aid gives you confidence and being several hours or days away from help can feel less intimidating with first-aid skills under your belt.

In addition to the basic Provide First Aid course, St John SA also offers several other courses, including Remote First Aid, which goes beyond the standard first-aid course and focuses on prolonged first aid and First Aid specific to bush and remote settings.

“The three-day course is suitable for individuals whose interest, activities or work take them to isolated areas and equips them with the knowledge and skills to provide appropriate and prolonged first aid for an injured or ill patient, while awaiting medical assistance,” said Kier.

“The aim of this course is to provide the necessary skills and knowledge to sustain life, reduce pain and minimise the consequences of injury or sudden illness until professional help arrives or to support and prepare the individual for evacuation.”

But even if you never have to make a splint and carry someone out of the bush, even basic first aid in the city does a lot more than you think. No matter where you are it is likely you will be involved in or witness a road traffic accident at some point.

‘First Aid Training and Harm Minimisation for Victims of Road Trauma: A Population Study’ has shown that being trained in first aid, along with owning a first-aid kit, increases the likelihood of intervention when witnessing road traffic accidents, and that the first-aid skills most commonly used at a road accident were changing posture, opening an airway and providing comfort and reassurance.

The study went on to identify that after a road traffic accident involving an injury, the factors most likely to lead to death or disability were obstruction of the airway and uncontrolled bleeding – the bread and butter of first-aid courses.

‘These are amenable to simple and early first-aid intervention. Bystander first-aid is important because the emergency response time for ambulance services, including in metropolitan settings in Australia, may result in delayed treatment and in many cases simple first-aid interventions applied immediately can save lives,’ according to the study.

This assertion is backed up by the Australian Paramedics Association who earlier this year appealed for mandatory first-aid kits in all vehicles. “Any assistance rendered by civilians allows paramedics to start major work on patients more quickly,” said APA NSW vice president Glenn Congram.

“If the person is sitting slumped with their head forward in their car, tilt their head back. This opens the airway. Which means that instead of getting a patient in cardiac arrest we can concentrate on other things.”

To some people the prospect of helping at a car accident is more than a little nerve-racking. But when you weigh avoiding the thought of it and not knowing what to do should disaster strike versus having some idea, the choice to learn first aid becomes obvious.

As for the young man who was having a seizure that I mentioned earlier, he eventually stopped seizing and started to regain consciousness. What struck me the most about the incident though was how willing so many people were to help. Shortly after I made the call to 000 a group of young disability workers stopped their car and sprang into action, taking control of the situation as if it was completely natural to them.

Even though I was the one on the phone to 000 I felt like I knew the least about what to do. It is great to live in a country where people are not only willing to help but know how to help. Having now completed my first-aid course I feel like I also now know how to help, even if it is only in a basic way but that’s still an empowering and reassuring feeling.

If your first aid is out of date or it is something you have been curious about, I strongly recommend you enrol in a course sooner rather than later. Knowing what to do in an emergency will not only boost your confidence, you will be a real asset to your loved ones, your community and everyone else around you.

There are lots of organisations that teach first aid but not all first-aid courses are created equal. According to Kier from St John SA the main things to look for in a first-aid course are that it is nationally accredited, that it meets the minimum requirements it claims to and that the minimum time spent completing the course face-to-face is at least one full day with additional online learning. Obviously Remote Area First Aid and other specialty courses should take longer.

For more information about the Remote First Aid course or any first-aid course you can visit your state’s St John website, or visit

Sam practises CPR compressions on a dummy during his First-Aid course.
Help may take hours, or even days, to arrive when you are in the Outback.
Anyone can learn First Aid.
Modern defibrillators are surprisingly easy to use and some models can teach CPR.
The time spent between calling 000 and help arriving can often be crucial.

Do Re Mi – CPR

When it comes to keeping the right rhythm for chest compressions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) most people know that you can use the beat of the Bee Gees’ song Stayin’ Alive. A more morbid option which can also help keep you in time is Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust. Here are some other songs that have similar beats per minute that you could theoretically use to keep your compressions in time.

Bee Gees, Stayin’ Alive – 104bpm
Queen, Another One Bites the Dust – 110bpm
Adele, Rolling in the Deep – 105bpm
Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire – 105bpm
Taylor Swift, 22 – 104bpm
Smash Mouth, All Star – 104bpm
Rascal Flatts, Life Is a Highway – 103bpm
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 – 104bpm
Chumbawamba, Tubthumping – 103bpm
Jet, Are You Gonna Be My Girl – 105bpm

Q: Why have the CPR guidelines changed so much over recent years?

A: ‘All first-aid guidelines are what is considered best practice and are based on research done all over the world. Australian and New Zealand Council of Resuscitation (ANZCOR) is the peak body for this and is constantly reviewing the latest research to update guidelines as required. Guidelines are only changed when there is significant evidence to suggest that there is a better way to do things, and the benefit of this is that more lives can be saved.’ ‑ St John SA.

This handy guidebook is given out as part of the First-Aid course.


Subscribe to the Great Australian Outdoors Magazine newsletter