A church first aid policy is essential for congregations large and small. You never know when an injury or illness may occur on your watch, and you don’t want to be caught off guard when it happens.
But creating an effective first aid plan involves much more than just investing in some gauze and bandages. It involves establishing protocols that allow you to swiftly respond in an emergency. You already cater to the spiritual needs of your flock; a first aid plan allows you to cater to their safety needs as well.
Appoint the Appropriate People to Oversee the Policy
One of the most important steps is to appoint someone as an overseer of the first aid policy. The person in charge is sometimes known as a first aider. Depending on the size of your church and the number of services held, you might need to designate multiple first aiders.
A good first aider is someone who:
- Can calmly assess the situation and take charge, responding quickly while minimizing any additional danger and preventing undue panic.
- Knows the location of all essential first aid equipment and knows how to use it.
- Has up-to-date CPR and/or Basic Life Support (BLS) training and can provide any necessary assistance based on a knowledgeable assessment of the patient’s condition.
- Can effectively and calmly delegate real-time instructions to other first aid volunteers in an emergency.
To ensure that there are no lapses when your primary first aiders are unavailable, you can train additional volunteers to take charge of the first aid policy during designated church services.
These secondary volunteers may not have formal training in basic life support, but they should know the location of all first aid equipment and be intimately familiar with your church’s policy, including who to contact in the event of an emergency.
It’s important to ensure that you have volunteers in place for each service. So if you oversee a Catholic church with three Mass services on Sunday and one on Saturday night, you’ll need to ensure that at least one first aid volunteer is available during all of those services. Likewise, if you oversee an evangelical, mainline, LDS, or other church with services on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings, you need to ensure that all of your services are accounted for.
Because the services can be numerous and spread out, we recommend choosing first aiders who are highly engaged church staff members. Congregants and ministry volunteers may only be available for one or two services a week (with occasional lapses), which creates logistical complexities when you’re trying to cover all of your services each week.
Staff members tend to be on site much more frequently, even during smaller Bible studies and ministry gatherings. That’s why they make excellent first aiders. Fewer of them are required, and they’re much easier to track. Plus, they know the facility inside and out.
Assemble a Complete Church First Aid Kit
At the very least, your church first aid kit should include the following items recommended by the American Red Cross:
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antiseptic solution (e.g. hydrogen peroxide)
- Antiseptic wipes
- Bandages in different shapes and sizes
- Cold compress
- CPR breathing barrier mask
- Disposable Gloves
- Eye Protection
- First aid instructions for volunteers
- Gauze pads of various sizes
- Large trauma dressings
- Oral thermometer
- Petroleum jelly
- Tongue Depressors
In addition to a standard first aid kit, it’s also a good idea to invest in a stop-the-bleed kit (also known as a bleeding control kit). Whereas a first aid kit is primarily designed for minor cuts and scrapes, a bleeding control kit is designed for life-threatening hemorrhage, often due to active shooters. This type of kit will often include items like:
- Chest seals
- Emergency trauma dressings
- Trauma shears
- Wound-packing gauze
Hopefully you’ll never need to use it, but unfortunately these types of supplies are becoming increasingly important in today’s world.
Establish an AED Program for Your Church
In addition to general first aid equipment, it’s strongly advised that you keep an automated external defibrillator (AED) on the premises. An AED is a portable defibrillator that you can use if someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
An AED is the most important medical device you can have on hand because, without quick intervention, cardiac arrest will kill a patient in a matter of minutes. An ambulance may take 10 minutes or more to arrive at the scene, but cardiac arrest patients require treatment without delay. With each minute that passes, their chances of survival decline by 10%. An AED is designed so that anyone can provide life-saving treatment in an emergency; it provides audible defibrillation and CPR coaching to guide untrained bystanders.
Note that you’ll need to establish a complete AED program for your church, as different states impose various requirements such as physician oversight and monthly/quarterly maintenance checks.
The easiest way to get set up is to invest in a complete AED church package, which includes a new ZOLL AED Plus defibrillator with pads and battery, an AED cabinet, a carry case, signage, basic first aid essentials, and much more. Be sure to also refer to our guide to choosing the best AED for church.
Choose the Optimal Locations for Your First Aid Equipment
The general rule of thumb for AEDs is that they should be stored no more than three minutes away from a potential emergency. This is a good policy for first aid equipment as well. You might keep your first aid supplies in an office, sacristy, kitchen, or other private area near the main sanctuary. Avoid humid environments like restrooms.
The AED cabinet should be placed in a more publicly accessible location, like in a sanctuary, entryway, or public hallway. In the event that a cardiac arrest occurs and no trained first aiders are available, the device may be used by a bystander to provide immediate intervention. Keep it in a location where an emergency is most likely to occur, such as near the main sanctuary.
If you oversee a larger church complex or megachurch, you might need multiple first aid kits and AEDs. For instance, you might keep one set of supplies in the main sanctuary and one in each subsequent building and sanctuary. Keep the three-minute rule in mind when determining how many kits you’ll need.
First Aid Response for Churches
Every service, Mass, sacrament meeting, large Bible study, or other gathering should have at least one first aider or appointed person on site. If an emergency occurs, all staff members and volunteers must know who to contact. For instance, if an injury occurs in the high school youth group, the youth minister may need to call for a first aider in the main sanctuary. He or she should know exactly where to go to ensure a timely response from a trained professional.
When the appointee arrives to administer first aid, it is their responsibility to complete and sign an incident report form. The form should include:
- The date, time, and location of the response
- The name and contact information of the person treated
- A detailed description of the injury or illness
- A detailed description of the treatment or intervention provided
- A detailed description of the circumstances surrounding the injury or illness
- A list of eyewitnesses or other individuals who aided in the treatment
- The signature of the person or persons who provided the intervention
- The signature of the individual who received the treatment (if possible)
The completed form should immediately be submitted to church leadership and kept as part of an official record.
The Health and Safety of Your Parishioners Is Paramount
A church first aid policy is easy to implement but so often overlooked. It’s not enough to keep a store-bought first aid kit in a cabinet and let it collect dust. It’s essential that you have a plan in place and the right personnel to carry out that plan. If an injury or illness ever does occur on your watch, your team will know exactly how to respond.
The first step is to stock up on the essentials—like a first aid kit and portable defibrillator—and find the right professionals to oversee your first aid policy. Then it’s a good idea to formalize that first aid policy in writing so that everyone is on the same page and future first aiders can easily follow the same protocols. Then, it’s just a matter of being prepared to respond when the moment arises. In some cases, you might prevent small injuries from becoming infected. In other cases, you might even save a life.