First aid training is a course that gives everyday people the knowledge and skills to respond to a medical emergency until more qualified help arrives. Usually, it can take up to 10 minutes or more for emergency medical services to arrive—critical minutes that can make the difference between life and death, and full recovery or permanent damage.
If you work in a school, sports center, or healthcare facility, or you simply want to be prepared to offer life-saving assistance in the course of your daily life, you will need to know:
- What first aid training is
- The knowledge taught in first aid training
- Skills taught in first aid training
- First aid training and COVID-19
What is First Aid Training?
First aid training courses teach the knowledge and skills that everyday (non-medically trained) people can use to provide assistance in accidents and emergency situations. The procedures taught don’t generally require any special equipment and can make an enormous difference to the outcome.
The three primary aims of first aid are:
- Preserve life. First aid skills like stopping a bleed, clearing the airway of a person who is choking, or manually supporting circulation with chest compressions in a victim of cardiac arrest can help to keep a patient alive until EMS personnel arrive.
- Prevent a condition from becoming worse. Stopping a bleed or immobilizing an injured joint can help to prevent the situation from becoming worse until the patient can receive a higher level of assessment and treatment.
- Promote healing. Applying a plaster to a cut or cooling a burn helps to accelerate the process of healing. In the case of a minor injury, first aid assistance may be all that is needed.
Given the number of deaths that occur annually in the U.S. from sudden cardiac arrest (300,000+), heavy bleeding (60,000), choking incidents (5,000), and drowning incidents (4,000), organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association encourage widespread training in first aid, CPR, and the use of AEDs. Thanks to educational and political campaigns:
- First aid and AED training requirements are now explicitly laid out in many states.
- First aid training for kids in high school is now mandatory for graduation in many states.
How First Aid and Medical Attention Work Together
First aid cannot replace qualified medical care and is not intended to do so. Rather, first aid is intended to keep a victim alive and help them to stabilize until qualified help arrives.
When injuries and other emergencies happen outside of a hospital setting, basic, common-sense assessments and procedures can make a real difference to the short- and long-term outcomes for the patient.
Legal Protection for First Aid
To encourage a fast response in emergencies, every state has Good Samaritan laws to protect well-intentioned bystanders who offer assistance. Usually, these laws take effect if:
- It was obvious that the situation was an emergency.
- The assistance given was that which any reasonable person would have offered under similar circumstances.
- There was no wanton or willful negligence on the part of the first aider.
- The first aider received no compensation for their help.
Usually, a first aider is expected to continue to provide first aid once they begin and until:
- Emergency medical services arrive, or
- Another layperson takes over, or
- The first aider becomes physically exhausted.
Once EMS personnel arrive, the first aider should also be ready to provide information about the incident (if they witnessed it), the patient’s symptoms, anything else that they know about the patient, and the nature of the care provided up until that point.
Basic First Aid Knowledge
The first part of a first aid course covers the knowledge you will need to identify and respond to different situations. Typically, students will learn:
- What first aid is
- When and how first aid must be used
- The importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) when providing assistance
- How to assess the scene and the injury
- How to move a victim safely from the scene of the emergency, especially if back or neck injuries are suspected
- How to assess the patient’s needs according to the “six basics” and what to do:
- Breathing (not present) = CPR
- Bleeding = Pressure
- Broken = Immobilize
- Burns = Cool
- Bites = Cover
- Blows = Watch
- How to identify and respond to life-threatening situations, including:
- Sudden cardiac arrest
- Heart attack
- Heavy bleeding
- Asthma attack
- Anaphylactic reaction
- How to identify and respond to situations that might not be immediately life-threatening, including:
- Bites and stings
- Minor bleeds
- Minor injuries
- Heat stroke
- Automated external defibrillators, their use, storage, maintenance, and laws that govern their use
- Epi-pens, ana-pens, and anaphylaxis
- Asthma attacks and inhalers
- Conducting a neurological field test
- Follow-up and trauma considerations for first aiders after an event
Some courses even cover mental-health first aid and psychological first aid (including post-traumatic stress disorder). Check with the provider to see exactly what will be covered in the course.
Basic First Aid Skills
In the practical part of the course, first aid students will cover all of the hands-on learning they need to deal with first aid situations in the real world. While the students practice the techniques, the instructor will observe the students and provide feedback—sending course participants away feeling confident that they can successfully apply each technique.
The actual skills taught in each first aid course will depend on the focus of the course. For example, a CPR-only course won’t include bandaging or epi-pen techniques.
In a general first aid course, you can expect to practice (and be evaluated on) the following skills:
- Enter the scene, assess the situation, and call emergency services.
- Check the victim’s circulation, airway, and breathing.
- Perform CPR on an adult and/or infant manikin.
- Place the manikin in the recovery position.
- Attach an AED and follow the prompts.
- Treat the “six basic” injuries in a series of simulations, including:
- Breathing (not present). Assess circulation, airway, and breathing (CAB), apply CPR, and correctly attach AED electrode pads.
- Bleeding. Apply pressure and bandage a wound.
- Broken. Safely immobilize the joint with a sling.
- Burns. Apply cold running water to the burn.
- Bites. Cover the bite.
- Blows. Watch the victim for signs of concussion (widened pupils, blurred vision, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, headaches, loss of balance, mood changes).
- Treat a victim of choking with the Heimlich maneuver.
Some first aid courses also include practical simulations of epi-pen/ana-pen use for anaphylaxis and the treatment of an asthma attack. If the course includes either of these certifications, you will be given ample opportunity to practice the techniques and be evaluated by the instructor.
What Is First Aid Training Like During COVID-19?
There have been some changes to first aid and CPR training since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Mode of Delivery
To protect first aid students and instructors, most first aid courses today are “blended,” meaning that the knowledge portion of the course is online and the skills portion of the course is conducted in person.
Smaller class sizes, physical distancing, and biosecurity measures for the practical portion of the course help to protect the instructor and class participants.
Updated guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation encourage hands-only CPR for untrained bystanders and CPR with ventilation breaths for people who are trained in CPR. Due to this update as well as safety concerns, it’s common for first aid courses to teach both methods of administering CPR.
For ventilation breaths, each provider should provide one-time-use materials for training, along with specific instructions about biosecurity when using traditional cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques in the community.
Types of First Aid Training Courses
There are several kinds of first aid training courses available that cater to different audiences and needs. AED Leader, for example, offers the following first aid training courses:
- CPR & AED
- AED, CPR, and First Aid
- Stop the Bleed
- OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens
- Fire Extinguisher Training
If you are the person responsible for the AED program at your organization, AED Program Management can help you make sure you comply with the training requirements for your state. In many cases, site-specific training can be arranged using the specific model of AED you have on-site (such as the HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P or Philips HeartStart FRx). The instructor will bring a special defibrillator designed for training to familiarize the staff with the layout and instructions of the device.
First Aid Can Save Lives
Whether you are required to take a first aid course for work or simply want to be prepared, the knowledge and skills you’ll learn in the course could make a huge difference in someone’s life.
AED and CPR training, in particular, will give you the confidence you need to respond if you see someone suddenly collapse. While you might not have a medical degree, you could be the person right there on the scene and have the chance to save a life.