Lessons for Good Samaritans
In a developing country, such as Jamaica where more than 300 people die in motor vehicle crashes each year, and emergency response is not as immediate as we would like it to be, having members of the public who are educated about how to assist victims at the scene of a traffic collision could save more lives, says Duane Ellis, Operations Manager at the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA).
Passersby are often the first on the scene, Mr. Ellis points out, and while these ‘Good Samaritans’ are willing to attend to the victims, most are not aware of what is required; and do not have the expertise.
“People often act on impulse. Their first instinct is to simply pull the victim from the wreckage, and then hurriedly place the person in the back of another vehicle and try to rush them to hospital,” he explains. And, while they mean no harm, some injured persons often suffer more physical problems from this type of assistance.
“At the scene of traffic collision, the first thing one should do is to dial the emergency numbers, which are 119 and 110,” he advises. “Tell these emergency responders that there has been a collision and people are injured. If you are driving, ensure that your vehicle is parked a safe distance away from the scene of the collision.”
The next thing one should do is to quickly assess the situation at the scene, the certified hazard respondent says, and indentify the numbers of people who have been injured, including those who may have been flung from the vehicle or hit by the vehicle. “Check to see if there are victims who can get out of the vehicle on their own and into a safe zone and attend to those who are unresponsive first,” he advises, as often a screaming victim or one who is able to walk away from the scene, may have less life threatening injuries than another who is unable to respond or unable to move.
Speak to the victim in an effort to calm the person Mr. Ellis adds; as well as, to gather information about any emergency contacts. Talking to the victim may also help you ascertain if the victim is lucid and whether the victim may have suffered brain or spinal injury, he says.
“Try to help the victim to relax,” he says. “Ask them simple questions. Ask for a name, enquire where they were going, and so on. These questions will help you to determine if the person has a concussion, which is a state where the victim might be semi-conscious. As the first respondent, your job is to stabilise the victim before moving them.”
“If the person appears to have a spinal injury, which is possible, then it is best for that person to remain in the position in which they were found, until professional help arrives,” Sydney Wedderburn, JAA Senior Response Technician states. This is done in an effort to avoid injuring them further.
“There are some basic techniques one can apply to stabilise a person,” Mr. Wedderburn says. “Assist the person to breathe if the individual is having trouble breathing.” One can assist a person to breathe by simply clearing away any obstruction to the mouth, such as stones, dirt and false teeth, and carefully turning the person’s head or body on the side to allow them to breathe through the mouth.
“Where possible, apply pressure to wounds from which there appears to be plenty blood loss using a clean piece of cloth. And you do this until professional emergency response arrives,” Mr. Wedderburn adds.
Unless the injured person is in danger from fire or oncoming traffic, it is best not to move him or her until adequate help is available, Mr. Ellis emphasises. If the vehicle has plunged into a ravine or over a precipice, assess if it is safe for you to go and then proceed cautiously to help.
“Call for professional assistance before doing anything; and get the directions of the competent person, before taking matters into your own hands,” the Operations Manager stresses.