Emergencies can happen at any moment. Having a basic knowledge of first aid procedures can save a life, but 70% of Americans don’t know what to do in the event of a cardiac emergency. How prepared are you? Would you know what to do if you saw someone having a heart attack? Or drowning?
If you could answer the questions above, you’re ahead of the game. If not, don’t sweat it—SafeWise has you covered. We’re going to look at how to handle some common emergency situations.
The most important thing to remember before performing any of these procedures is to call 911 first. Or better yet, have someone else do so while you get started. With that out of the way, here are some safety procedures everyone should know.
1. How to Perform CPR
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is used when someone isn’t breathing or has no heartbeat, and it can save lives when performed correctly. Here’s how to do CPR:
- Open the airway. Place the person on their back and tilting the head back slightly.
- Check for breathing. Listen for up to ten seconds for any sounds of breathing. If there is no breathing, you’ll need to perform CPR.
- Apply chest compressions. Place your hands on the middle of the chest, one on top of the other. Apply compressions that are at least 2 inches deep. You want to apply at least 100 compressions per minute—a common way of keeping the proper rhythm is to apply compressions to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
- Deliver rescue breaths. Tilt the person’s head back slightly, pinch their nose shut, and cover their mouth with yours, forming a seal. Blow into their mouth until their chest rises. Do this twice.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4. Apply chest compressions and deliver rescue breaths until the person begins breathing on their own or until trained medical personnel arrive, such as EMS.
CPR training and certification is available in most areas. The American Red Cross provides a tool to register for local classes.
CPR for very young children and infants requires a slightly different procedure, which the Red Cross covers in detail. Child CPR techniques are also frequently taught in first-time parenting classes. Check out more tips to keep your baby safe.
2. How to Perform Pet CPR
You’ve probably never thought about giving a dog CPR, but if you’re a pet owner, this is an important skill. Giving a pet CPR is similar to giving a human CPR, but there are a few slight differences:
- Check for breathing and signs of a heartbeat. If you can’t detect either, you’ll need to start CPR.
- Give chest compressions. You’ll want to perform compressions at a rate of 100–120 per minute, compressing about 1/3 to 1/2 the width of the chest. For small dogs and cats, place your hands over the heart. For larger dogs, place your hands over the widest part of the chest or sternum.
- Give rescue breaths. Close the pet’s mouth and extend its neck to open the airway. Cover the nose with your mouth and exhale until the chest rises. Do this twice.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3. Apply chest compressions and deliver rescue breaths until the animal starts breathing on its own or you arrive at the vet or animal hospital.
Again, the Red Cross is the best resource for info on pet CPR. There is a detailed, printable guide available, as well as an online pet first aid course.
3. What to Do If Someone Is Choking
Choking cuts off the brain’s supply of oxygen, making it a life-threatening situation. If someone is choking, the standard procedure to dislodge the object is to perform the Heimlich maneuver, which is a special abdominal thrust. Here’s how to do the Heimlich maneuver:
- Stand behind the person. Stagger your feet to provide balance.
- Wrap your arms around the person’s waist.
- Make a fist with one hand. Place your fist slightly above the person’s navel and grab it with your other hand.
- Perform 6–10 abdominal thrusts. Press hard into the person’s stomach in an upward motion, as if you were trying to lift them.
The exact procedure can vary slightly if the choking person is a child or pregnant. The Mayo Clinic has a detailed page with specific procedures for different body types.
4. What to Do in Case of a Heart Attack
A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency, so it’s important to know how to recognize when someone might be having one and know what to do. Some signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain
- Discomfort in the shoulder, arm, or neck
- Heartburn, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
The risk of heart attack increases with age, so it’s especially important to be aware of these signs in older adults. You should also be aware that heart attack symptoms can be different in women. Here’s what to do if you suspect someone is having a heart attack:
- Immediately call 911. If you are unable to contact emergency services, drive the person to the emergency room. The individual should only drive themselves as a last resort.
- Offer the person an aspirin if available. Aspirin can help reduce the damage from a heart attack.
- Perform CPR if the person loses consciousness. See the steps above.
The American Heart Association has tons of information on heart attacks, including warning signs, info on what to do, and support groups for people who’ve experienced a heart attack. SafeWise also has more resources for older adult safety.
5. What to Do If Someone Is Drowning
Drowning is, unfortunately, one of the most common causes of accidental death.2 Here’s what to do if someone is struggling in the water:
- Try to reach them from shore. If the person is near the edge of the body of water, try to reach them without entering the water. Use a tree branch, an oar, a pool skimmer, or anything else that can increase your reach.
- Throw them a flotation device. A pool float, safety ring, or life vest can work.
- If a boat is available, use that to go to them. This will only apply in certain situations, but a boat is preferable to swimming for reaching the victim.
- Swim to them. As a last resort, swim to the person. Bring a flotation device, towel, or other item with you that you can use to tow the person.
If you aren’t a strong swimmer, jumping in after the person can put you at risk as well, because they are likely to be panicked and flailing. This is why swimming to the individual should always be your last resort.
The Red Cross has more information on water safety. You can also check out our guide on water safety for children.
6. How to Treat Burns
Severe burns should be treated by emergency personnel or other medical professionals. If the burn is relatively minor, though, there are some basic first aid steps you can take:
- Cool the burn. Run cool tap water over it for 10–20 minutes.
- Clean the skin gently. Use soap and water to wash the burn. Do not put ice, butter, or any other substance directly on the burned area.
- Take a pain reliever. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce discomfort.
WebMD provides more information on treating various types of burns.
These procedures should cover the most common emergencies you might encounter. Stay safe out there!
- American Heart Association, “CPR Statistics”
- Ocean County Health Department, “Top Causes of Unintentional Injury and Death”