First aid

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A US Navy corpsman gives first aid to an injured Iraqi citizen

First aid is the provision of initial care for an illness or injury. It is usually performed by non-experts (or sometimes by an expert in case of an emergency), but trained personnel to a sick or injured person until definitive medical treatment can be accessed. Certain self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may not require further medical care past the first aid intervention. It generally consists of a series of simple and in some cases, potentially life-saving techniques that an individual can be trained to perform with minimal equipment.

While first aid can also be performed on all animals, the term generally refers to care of human patients.


The instances of recorded first aid were provided by religious knights, such as the Knights Hospitaller, formed in the 11th century, providing care to pilgrims and knights, and training other knights in how to treat common battlefield injuries.[1] The practice of first aid fell largely into disuse during the High Middle Ages, and organized societies were not seen again until in 1859 Jean-Henri Dunant organized local villagers to help victims of the Battle of Solferino, including the provision of first aid. Four years later, four nations met in Geneva and formed the organization which has grown into the Red Cross, with a key stated aim of "aid to sick and wounded soldiers in the field".[1] This was followed by the formation of St. John Ambulance in 1877, based on the principles of the Knights Hospitaller, to teach first aid, and numerous other organization joined them with the term first aid first coined in 1878 as civilian ambulance services spread as a combination of "first treatment" and "national aid"[1] in large railway centres and mining districts as well as with police forces. In 1878 Surgeon-Major Peter Shepherd, together with Colonel Francis Duncan established the concept of teaching first aid skills to civilians. Shepherd, together with a Dr Coleman, conducted the first class in the hall of the Presbyterian school in Woolwich using a comprehensive first aid curriculum that he had developed. It was Shepherd who first used the English term "first aid for the injured"[2] First aid training began to spread through the empire through organisations such as St. John, often starting, as in the UK, with high risk activities such as ports and railways.[3]

Many developments in first aid and many other medical techniques have been driven by wars, such as in the case of the American Civil War, which prompted Clara Barton to organize the American Red Cross.[4] Today, there are several groups that promote first aid, such as the military and the Scouting movement. New techniques and equipment have helped make today’s first aid simple and effective.


The key aims of first aid can be summarized in three key points:-[5]

First aid training also involves the prevention of initial injury and responder safety, and the treatment phases. And it is a kit of aid.

Key skills[edit]

In case of tongue fallen backwards, blocking the airway, it is necessary to hyperextend the head and pull up the chin, so that the tongue lifts and clears the airway.

Certain skills are considered essential to the provision of first aid and are taught ubiquitously. Particularly the "ABC"s of first aid, which focus on critical life-saving intervention, must be rendered before treatment of less serious injuries. ABC stands for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. The same mnemonic is used by all emergency health professionals. Attention must first be brought to the airway to ensure it is clear. Obstruction (choking) is a life-threatening emergency. Following evaluation of the airway, a first aid attendant would determine adequacy of breathing and provide rescue breathing if necessary. Assessment of circulation is now not usually carried out for patients who are not breathing, with first aiders now trained to go straight to chest compressions (and thus providing artificial circulation) but pulse checks may be done on less serious patients.

Some organizations add a fourth step of "D" for Deadly bleeding or Defibrillation, while others consider this as part of the Circulation step. Variations on techniques to evaluate and maintain the ABCs depend on the skill level of the first aider. Once the ABCs are secured, first aiders can begin additional treatments, as required. Some organizations teach the same order of priority using the "3Bs": Breathing, Bleeding, and Bones (or "4Bs": Breathing, Bleeding, Brain, and Bones). While the ABCs and 3Bs are taught to be performed sequentially, certain conditions may require the consideration of two steps simultaneously. This includes the provision of both artificial respiration and chest compressions to someone who is not breathing and has no pulse, and the consideration of cervical spine injuries when ensuring an open airway.

Preserving life[edit]

In order to stay alive, all persons need to have an open airway—a clear passage where air can move in through the mouth or nose through the pharynx and down into the lungs, without obstruction. Conscious people will maintain their own airway automatically, but those who are unconscious (with a GCS of less than 8) may be unable to maintain a patent airway, as the part of the brain which automatically controls breathing in normal situations may not be functioning.

If the patient was breathing, a first aider would normally then place them in the recovery position, with the patient leant over on their side, which also has the effect of clearing the tongue from the pharynx. It also avoids a common cause of death in unconscious patients, which is choking on regurgitated stomach contents.

The airway can also become blocked through a foreign object becoming lodged in the pharynx or larynx, commonly called choking. The first aider will be taught to deal with this through a combination of ‘back slaps’ and ‘abdominal thrusts’.

Once the airway has been opened, the first aider would assess to see if the patient is breathing. If there is no breathing, or the patient is not breathing normally, such as agonal breathing, the first aider would undertake what is probably the most recognized first aid procedure—cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR, which involves breathing for the patient, and manually massaging the heart to promote blood flow around the body.

Promoting recovery[edit]

The first aider is also likely to be trained in dealing with injuries such as cuts, grazes or bone fracture. They may be able to deal with the situation in its entirety (a small adhesive bandage on a paper cut), or may be required to maintain the condition of something like a broken bone, until the next stage of definitive care (usually an ambulance) arrives.


First aid scenario training in progress

Basic principles, such as knowing to use an adhesive bandage or applying direct pressure on a bleed, are often acquired passively through life experiences. However, to provide effective, life-saving first aid interventions requires instruction and practical training. This is especially true where it relates to potentially fatal illnesses and injuries, such as those that require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); these procedures may be invasive, and carry a risk of further injury to the patient and the provider. As with any training, it is more useful if it occurs before an actual emergency, and in many countries, emergency ambulance dispatchers may give basic first aid instructions over the phone while the ambulance is on the way.

Training is generally provided by attending a course, typically leading to certification. Due to regular changes in procedures and protocols, based on updated clinical knowledge, and to maintain skill, attendance at regular refresher courses or re-certification is often necessary. First aid training is often available through community organizations such as the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, or through commercial providers, who will train people for a fee. This commercial training is most common for training of employees to perform first aid in their workplace. Many community organizations also provide a commercial service, which complements their community programmes.


In Australia, nationally recognized first aid certificates may only be issued by registered training organisations that are accredited on the National Training Information System (NTIS). Courses are based on the delivery and assessment of units of competency from various training packages.[6] Most first aid certificates are issued at one of three levels::

Other courses outside these levels are commonly taught, including CPR-only courses, Advanced Resuscitation, Remote Area or Wilderness First Aid, Administering Medications (such as salbutamol or the EpiPen) and specialized courses for parents, school teachers, community first responders or hazardous workplace first aiders. CPR Re-accreditation courses are sometimes required yearly, regardless of the length of the overall certification.


In Canada, first aid certificates can be issued under the auspices one of four training organizations that authorize 'course providers' to provide their particular "brand" of first aid training in up to ten provinces and three territories (thus, nationally): Canadian Red Cross Society, (Royal)Lifesaving Society (Canada), St. John Ambulance, and Canadian Ski Patrol. Besides first aid courses for the general public, such as "Emergency" and "Standard" first aid, which incorporates and includes CPR, most of these organizations also administer more specialized training, for example "Aquatic Emergency Care" for life guards (Lifesaving Society), "Wilderness First Aid" (St. John Ambulance and the Canadian Red Cross Society), first aid that meets regulations for employment as a child care worker (Canadian Red Cross Society) and first aid training that meets regulations for first aid attendants employed in the workplace (Canadian Red Cross).

Workplaces can come under occupational health and safety and insurance regulations that are either provincial (e.g. construction work sites) or federal (e.g. air, rail or marine transportation). Therefore, these national first aid training organizations offer workplace first aid training that complies with the specific training requirements, standards and syllabi set either by a given province or else by the particular federal regulatory requirement (for example, maritime industry first aid for ships crew and officers, or commercial aviation first aid for air transport crew such as airline flight attendants and pilots).

First aid training leading to certification that meets provincial workplace standards can also be offered through private training companies that have to be accredited and authorized by the relevant provincial regulatory agency or ministry. For example, the British Columbia provincial Workers Compensation Board (Worksafe BC) sets out OFA Occupational First Aid training and certification standards and requirements at 3 levels ranging from 8 to more than 40 hours.

Beyond 'first aid' training and certification are standards for 'pre-hospital care' such as 'first responder', 'emergency medical responder', paramedic and other titles. For example, fire-rescue personnel and paramedical personnel provide care that goes beyond 'first aid'. Yet a police officer might only be required to hold a first aid, not a pre-hospital care first aid 'ticket' as part of his or her current qualification. The military train in first aid and pre-hospital emergency care that is oriented to combat and other military situations and environments.

The training syllabi (course content) for "Emergency" First Aid (around 8 hours; 8 hours when recertifying; basically CPR along with treatment for shock and a few other life-threatening conditions such as anaphylaxis and severe bleeding) and "Standard" First Aid (around 16 hours, but 8 hours to recertify within a certain recurrency period - otherwise re-do the 16 hours) are set out by Health Canada, a federal department of the Government of Canada which accredits a training organization as a course provider of these two basic certificates, needed by those people employed in federally regulated workplaces.

Workplace safety regulations and standards for first aid vary by province depending on occupation. However, as some occupations are governed by federal, not provincial, workplace safety regulations, such as the transportation industry (marine, aviation, rail), trainees need to confirm with their employer as to exactly what specific training and certification standards comply with the applicable regulatory agencies, federal or provincial.

CPR certification in Canada is broken into several levels. Depending on the level, the lay person will learn the basic one-person CPR and choking procedures for adults, and perhaps children, and infants. Higher-level designations also require two-person CPR to be learned. Depending on provincial laws, trainees may also learn the basics of automated external defibrillation (AED).[9]


In France, first aid certificates are delivered by organisations that are approved by the Minister of the Interior, following the official national reference document (Référentiel national, RN). There are about 20 approved associations (Croix-rouge française, Fédération Nationale de Protection Civile, Fédération des secouristes français Croix-Blanche, Œuvres hospitalières françaises de l'ordre de Malte, Union nationale de protection civile, Association nationale des premiers secours, …); many administrations — army, fire services, national education, … — are also approved.

section de maternelle (5 years old): to detect a danger, to look for an adult,


In Ireland, the workplace qualification is the Occupational First Aid Certificate. The Health and Safety Authority issue the standards for first aid at work and hold a register of qualified instructors, examiners and organisations that can provide the course. A FETAC Level 5 certificate is awarded after passing a three-day course and is valid for two years from date of issue. Occupational First Aiders are more qualified than Cardiac First Responders (Cardiac First Response and training on the AED is now part of the OFA course) but less qualified than Emergency First Responders but strangely Occupational First Aid is the only one of the three not certified by PHECC. Organisations offering the certificate include, Ireland's largest first aid organisation, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, the St John Ambulance Brigade, and the Irish Red Cross. The Irish Red Cross also provides a Practical First Aid Course aimed at the general public dealing primarily with family members getting injured. Many other (purely commercially run) organisations offer training.


In Russia, first aid education is mandatory for police officers, rescues and EMERCOM staff. In secondary school, teenagers are trained in basic first aid skills. Adults can be trained in commercial organizations. Such training is based on the international guidelines, there are no country-specific guidelines for first aid in Russia. Providing first aid to the victims is the right of every man, but medications can be used by certified ambulance crews, physicians and hospital staff only. There are no national first aid certificates in Russia.


In Singapore, the workplace qualification is the Occupational First Aid Certificate. The Ministry of Manpower (Singapore) issue the standards for first aid at work and qualifies first aid instructors, occupational nurses and doctors and registered safety officers as examiners and organisations that can provide the course. Instructors are required to undergo an ACTA certification, a nationally recognised training standard endorsed by the Workforce Development Agency. Workplaces with more than 25 employees are required to have certified Occupational First Aiders. The Occupational First Aid Course recently incorporated a CPR and AED segment which is accredited by the National Resuscitation Council of Singapore and is valid for 2 years. Occupational First Aiders learn more workplace related topics than Cardiac First Responders and is the industry standard in Singapore. However, they may be less qualified than EMTs.Also in schools basic training is given of first aid.

The Netherlands[edit]

In the Netherlands basic level lay first-aid training is mostly provided by the Dutch Red Cross, local Lifeguard organizations, first-aid association or commercial companies. First-aiders are mostly certified by the "Dutch Red Cross" and the foundation "Het Oranje Kruis". The foundation "LPEV" certifies mainly advanced and first responder level' first-aid training.

Medical first-aid must always be provided by certified ambulance crews, physicians and hospital staff.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, as well as general and practical first aid courses for the public environment, there are also two main types of first aid courses offered for the workplace environment as required by the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981; Emergency First Aid at Work and First Aid at Work. An “Emergency First Aid at Work” course typically lasts one day, and covers the basics, focusing on critical interventions for conditions such as cardiac arrest and severe bleeding, and is usually not formally assessed. A “First Aid at Work” course is usually a three-day course (two days for a re-qualification) that covers the full spectrum of first aid, and is assessed throughout the course by the trainers. As of 1st October 2013, regulations from the HSE changed regarding the delivery of training, meaning they will no longer monitor first-aid educators. The responsibility for ensuring the first-aid course content, and those delivering it as "fit for purpose" is now entirely the responsibility of the business needing the certification. [11] Certification for the “First Aid at Work” course are issued by the training organization and are valid for a period of three years from the date the delegate qualifies.[12] Other first aid courses offered by the major UK training organizations such as St. John Ambulance, St Andrew’s First Aid or the British Red Cross include Sports First Aid, Baby and Child courses, manual handling, people moving, and courses geared towards more advanced life support, such as defibrillation and administration of medical gases such as oxygen and entonox.

The British Armed Forces use First Aid ranging from levels 1–3, to assist the medical staff on their Ship, Squadron, Section, Base or any other purpose required. They are trained in both Military (battlefield injuries) and Civilian First Aid and often utilise their knowledge in aid stricken regions around the world. First Aid is vital on board warships because of the number of people in a small area and the space given to perform their task, it is also vital for the Army and Royal Marines to know basic first aid to help the survival rate of injured soldiers when in combat.

United States[edit]

In the United States, there is no universal schedule of First Aid levels that are applicable to all agencies that provide first aid training. Training is provided typically through the American Red Cross, but may also be completed by local fire departments and the American Heart Association (AHA) in terms of CPR. The American Red Cross, however, offers the following courses:[13]

Red Cross training programs may vary by Chapter and season. Lay First Aid Providers in the United States are subject to Good Samaritan law protections as long as their treatment does not extend beyond training or certification. First Aid training in the United States is limited to basic life support functions needed to sustain life, and training instills the importance of activating the Emergency Medical System before beginning assistance (through the Three C's: Check, Call, Care). Training classes range from a few hours for a specific course, or several days for combination, specialty, and instructor courses. Red Cross volunteers are required to be Standard First Aid plus CPR/ACI certified (AED is encouraged but not required as of 2009), as well as passing the FEMA NIMS Introductory certification.

Specific disciplines[edit]

There are several types of first aid (and first aider) which require specific additional training. These are usually undertaken to fulfill the demands of the work or activity undertaken.


For more details on this topic, see Emblems of the Red Cross § Use of the emblems.

Although commonly associated with first aid, the symbol of a red cross is an official protective symbol of the Red Cross. According to the Geneva Conventions and other international laws, the use of this and similar symbols is reserved for official agencies of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and as a protective emblem for medical personnel and facilities in combat situations. Use by any other person or organization is illegal, and may lead to prosecution.

The internationally accepted symbol for first aid is the white cross on a green background shown below.

Some organizations may make use of the Star of Life, although this is usually reserved for use by ambulance services, or may use symbols such as the Maltese Cross, like the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St John Ambulance. Other symbols may also be used.

Conditions that often require first aid[edit]

Also see medical emergency.


  1. ^ a b c First Aid: From Witchdoctors & Religious Knights to Modern Doctors, retrieved March 23, 2011.
  2. ^ . The earliest days of first aid John Pearn BMJ 1994;309:1718 20
  3. ^ Industrial Revolution: St. John Ambulance, retrieved December 10, 2006.
  4. ^ American Red Cross -- Museum, retrieved March 23, 2011.
  5. ^ "Accidents and first aid". NHS Direct. Archived from the original on 2008-05-03. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b NTIS Health Training Package -
  8. ^ For example in New South Wales -
  9. ^ "Communiqué - CPR Training for Alberta Health Care Providers" (PDF) (Press release). Lifesaving Society of Canada. 16 January 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2009. "Together, all five members of the ECC agreed upon the new Canadian levels for CPR and the content and skills required for each level." 
  10. ^ "2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care". Circulation (United States: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins) 112 (24 Supplement): IV–12. 2005. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.166552. ISSN 0009-7322. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ example of First Aid at Work Sylabus
  13. ^ Taken from Grand Canyon Chapter of the American Red Cross Course Catalog as example list of training [2]
  14. ^ Cymerman, A; Rock, PB. Medical Problems in High Mountain Environments. A Handbook for Medical Officers. USARIEM-TN94-2. US Army Research Inst. of Environmental Medicine Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division Technical Report. Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  15. ^ Longphre, John M.; Petar J. DeNoble; Richard E. Moon; Richard D. Vann; John J. Freiberger (2007). "First aid normobaric oxygen for the treatment of recreational diving injuries.". Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine 34 (1): 43–49. ISSN 1066-2936. OCLC 26915585. PMID 17393938. Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  16. ^ Sterba, JA (1990). "Field Management of Accidental Hypothermia during Diving". US Naval Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report. NEDU-1-90. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 

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