After spending years as an emergency medical responder, I’ve gotten intimately familiar with what kind of equipment is essential to have in a home and car first aid kit. The kit outlined in this article is for general purposes, with no specialty items for children or animals, but much of the same equipment can be used on children and animals should the need arise.
As a regular citizen in most states, many people feel that they can’t try to help an injured person because they think they’ll open themselves up to civil liability. In truth, though, a large majority of states have what is called a ‘Good Samaritan Law’ which prevents you from being liable so long as you show a good faith effort in trying to help a person who is injured. While the threshold varies by state, in general so long as you don’t show gross negligence that can be seen as intentionally trying to make an injury worse, you’re likely free from all liability.
One very important set of things that I recommend having in any first aid kit we in the industry call ‘body substance isolation’, which refers to protective equipment you put on before helping someone. The key pieces of body substance isolation are nitrile gloves and safety glasses. Both of these are used to make sure that any medical issues that the injured person has doesn’t get transferred to you. They are not a replacement for washing your hands, but rather added protection.
The gloves should be what is called ‘nitrile’, which is a plastic compound similar to rubber. The reason you should NOT have latex gloves in a first aid kit, and opt instead for nitrile, is because a rising portion of the population has an allergy to latex which can cause extreme reactions, or even death. Nitrile gloves are often more sturdy than latex gloves, and come with no substantial downsides in comparison.
Eye protection is important is some instances, as I have seen firsthand that in some traumatic injuries, or even in sickness, sometimes body substances can go flying everywhere. One of the very last places you want some kind of substance you aren’t familiar with going is into your eye, so it should be of high priority to protect.
Some tools you should get include a flexible splint and a pair of medical shears. Neither of these are very expensive despite their very unique use, but they are very handy and even have a symbiotic relationship in some cases. For instance, by getting a large flexible splint you can then use the medical shears to cut it down to a size that works best for a fracture.
Medical shears can also be used to cut things like seat-belts, ropes, and other items you may find the need to cut while providing first aid to a sick or injured person.
Other Important Items
One of the key things for a personal first aid kit is adhesive bandages. All the other equipment, while important, is much less likely to be used regularly. Buy a variety pack of adhesive bandages that includes a plethora of different sizes and shapes. Some of the shapes may leave you confused, however the box usually also contains a small guide to some of the more strange looking ones, with explanations for their use.
Another important ingredient is gauze. Gauze is, to use a metaphor, the paper towel of the medical world. It can be used to soak-up all sorts of different substances. The type that I prefer is rolled gauze with a width of 4 inches (two or three rolls of this size) and a roll of six inch wide gauze.
While non-rolled gauze has it’s uses, most of those uses can be achieved with rolled gauze as well, with the added benefit of being able to use the rolled gauze as a wrap or compress bandage, as well as something to secure the flexible splint outlined above in place.
Further Reading and Sources:
American Red Cross
Washington Trails Association
Humane Society of the United States
National Health Service(UK)
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology