Friday, May 20, 2011

IFAK: the new standard for first-aid kits

There are many kinds of first-aid kits out there, from the small pocket kits to the large wall mountable setups. Each one has different options and can provide different levels of care, assuming that you are properly trained with the contents. What most of these kits lack, however, is real life-saving equipment; most of them are built to treat and alleviate pain from cuts, scrapes, burns and insect bites.

The IFAK, or Individual First-Aid Kit, was born on the fields of battle, and over time the contents and the training have gotten better and better. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the IFAK has proven itself so useful that the kit and the training for it, based on the Combat Lifesaver (CLS) program, are now standard issue for all military personnel going into harm's way. In fact Col. Ron Bellamy, a very well known former Army doctor, said this shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf war in the early 90's: "If during the next war you could do only two things, 1) place a tourniquet and 2) treat a tension pneumothorax (sucking chest wound), then you can probably save between 70 and 90 percent of all the preventable deaths on the battlefield.” And he was right - current research of our troops overseas show that this little IFAK, which contains the components necessary to do what Col. Bellamy requests, has saved countless lives.

January 8th, 2011 – Police officers in Tucson, AZ are the first to arrive on scene where a crazed gunman has just shot up a crowd of people at a political event, and the injured lay everywhere. Grabbing their IFAKs, officers begin to administer life-saving first-aid to those who had been shot. Once those victims got to advanced medical care, an emergency room doctor said this of the field care they received: “If you can say a success came out of a tragedy, then this is one of the examples.” These officers had received simple but effective training with their kits just a few months prior to this incident, and that day it saved lives. Though not a standard piece of equipment yet, more and more law enforcement agencies are starting to train with and issue the IFAK to their officers.

And it's not just the military and law-enforcement personnel that are carrying and using these kits - more and more men and women in the outdoors, be they recreational hikers, hunters, or serious backpackers, are starting to utilize this equipment. And for good reasons: not only can these kits be self-applied, but they contain the components that are most necessary for saving your life when serious injury befalls you, yet they are small and lightweight.

So what if you're not a soldier, cop, or outdoors enthusiast? How can these kits apply to you? Consider this: studies show that whoever puts the first bandage on determines whether that casualty becomes a survivor or a fatality. It's all about what we call "The First Five Minutes", or the "Golden Hour". The care, or lack of care, received in that time period is the most important to someone who has been injured, and in a major disaster or accident, it may be awhile before emergency service personnel are able to get to you. And did you know that emergency medics will 'stage' outside of a scene if it is deemed unsafe for them? That means that even if they get to your home, or your office, or to the location of a school shooting, they will not go in until the scene has been cleared by police. That could mean a long wait for you and your loved ones, and that long wait may not be possible depending on your injuries. Imagine how many more lives could have been saved on January 8th, or September 11th, or wherever the last vehicle accident or disaster was if more people there had taken the time to get trained with and carry something as simple as a small IFAK? I personally have an IFAK in every vehicle, on each level of my house, in my camping pack, in my range bag, and on my response vest. My strong belief in this kit has led Independence Training to start a course specifically designed to this kit, and we are encouraging everyone we can to get the kit and get the training.

So what is this kit? What makes it so great? Though the contents can vary a little based on kit and situation, here are the contents of the IFAK that we are currently issuing to Arizona law-enforcement agencies and private citizens who pursue our IFAK Life-Saver course.

1 - Durable, lightweight MOLLE pouch. This pouch is small enough to be easily carried but big enough to hold all of the supplies without bursting at the seams.

2 - Shears. Strong and sharp, these shears allow for the quick and easy removal of clothing or equipment in order to get to a wound.

3 - Latex Gloves. For the safety of the responder, utilizing gloves is important to make sure you do not contaminate yourself, assuming the have the time to put them on.

4 - Combat Application Touriquet (CAT). Forget what you learned in first-aid class - tourniquets do not come last; in the case of catastrophic bleeding (arterial bleed) they come first. The CAT is designed specifically to control bleeding, and its precision design, coupled with proper training, removes the danger of conventional tourniquets.

5 - Compression Bandages. This IFAK contains two 4" Compression Bandages for dressing a wound and putting additional pressure on it, if needed. Utilizing highly absorbent gauze material, the proper application of these bandages can often be enough to stop bleeding and secure a wound site.

6 - Quikclot Combat Gauze. A huge improvement over the older style powder, Combat Gauze offers a heat-free hemostatic agent impregnated in 4 yards of gauze which can stop bleeding from both arterial and venous wounds when applied directly to the source.

7 - Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA). Designed to establish a secure airway in a patient, as well as opening and securing an airway through the nasal passage should a wound to the face compromise breathing.

8 - Decompression Needle. For treatment of tension pneumothorax, where a lung is being crushed by air inside the chest, this needle will insert a catheter that will relieve the pressure in the chest and allow the lungs to properly inflate.

9 - Bolin Chest Seal. In the case of any kind of puncture wound to the chest, whether from a bullet, getting stabbed, or being impaled on a large branch or other sharp object, the area must be sealed off to prevent air from entering the chest as well as entry of foreign material while still allowing air to escape the wound in order to help prevent tension pneumothorax. This chest seal, with built-in one-way valve, accomplishes just that.

These kits are fairly inexpensive and easy to carry, and should accompany you wherever you go. Just as with carrying a firearm, a fire extinguisher, or a spare tire, it's not about asking the question "When would I use this?" It's about asking yourself "What if I needed this and didn't have it?" What if this kit, and the training to use it, could one day save the life of you, your loved ones, or even a perfect stranger? What if you didn't have this kit or the skills to use it, and someone died because of it?

As for me, you'll always find my IFAK close at hand.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, Train Hard.
-Glen Stilson