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EMS and the evolution of first aid training

EMS providers need to be involved in educating communities in how to provide the initial response to critically injured patients


It is often the quick thinking of friends, neighbors and bystanders that makes a real difference in the outcomes of critically ill and injured patients. Around the country, EMS providers work within their communities to provide CPR and first aid training, helping to strengthen the first link in the chain of survival.

Yet there are times when the information and training is not as relevant as it needs to be. Out-of-the-box thinking is often born of necessity within the environment.

Such is the case in Chicago's South Side, where gun violence among teen youth is rampant. Troubled by the alarming rate of penetrating trauma in their neighborhood, community activists and health care providers implemented a targeted first responder program.

It would be a shame if we were not part of the solution of managing life-threatening emergencies at the street level. (Photo/OK.gov)
It would be a shame if we were not part of the solution of managing life-threatening emergencies at the street level. (Photo/OK.gov)

Called Ujimaa Medics, or uMedics for short, community members are trained to not only provided critical first aid to victims of gunshots and asthma attacks, but also in how to report a medical emergency and interact with police and paramedics on the scene. According to their annual report, uMedics trained 250 community members in 2016. At least five of them were able to provide initial care to gunshot victims. 

Conventional thinking would provoke a reaction of distrust among EMS providers. Why send a bystander into harm's way? How realistic is the expectation that a bystander would intervene in a violent situation? How accurate is the information? Would that person get in the way while on scene?

The fact is, nothing is conventional in a neighborhood where being shot is a reasonable expectation. A lack of a nearby trauma center aggravates the issue, and it makes total sense that citizens help out their own campaign, and do it responsibly. In addition to teaching citizens how to act in a manner that does not interfere with the duties of the EMS provider, the training also has the potential to forge stronger ties between public safety and the community.

Training citizens strengthens the EMS system

Of course there are those who would say that this training is unnecessary and unhelpful. I would suggest quite the opposite; EMS needs to be part of this evolution of first response training. Major violence events in Boston and Las Vegas, as well as natural disasters in Houston, Puerto Rico and Northern California have emphasized the need for a well-trained citizenry to help out when professional services are overwhelmed. Basic first aid and CPR training can serve as the basics, but being able to render aid beyond cardiac arrest has the potential to strengthen our EMS system, not detract from it.

EMS providers are experts at improvising and overcoming scene challenges, and are best positioned to use their experience and training to help laypersons learn the new basics of immediate aid. It would be a shame if we were not part of the solution of managing life-threatening emergencies at the street level.

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