Carry an IFAK
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Many shooters today, particularly those with military or policing experience, know the value in carrying an individual first aid kit, or “IFAK”. But every shooter should consider carrying one, given that sometimes accidents happen and life-saving medical assistance can be minutes away when seconds count.
What goes in to an IFAK to make it effective are the bare-bones basic trauma management items that will give the greatest chance to save a life in the rare event of a firearms injury.
In every occupation or sport, we consider the preventive safety measures that will help avoid accidental injuries from occurring. But even with the best precautions and safety equipment in use, there can be occasions where a momentary inattention, or some other fluke of nature causes an injury.
Youth baseball, for example, is a relatively safe sport. Batters wear helmets and catchers wear throat guards to prevent injury from a thrown or batted ball. But even with all the protective equipment in use, injuries happen, and so smart parents or coaches carry first aid kits to games and practices to deal with accidental injuries.
Any person using a firearm should be following basic firearm safety principles – 1. Assume every firearm is loaded. 2. Control the muzzle direction at all times. 3. Trigger finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard. 4. See the firearm is unloaded – PROVE it safe. But there have been rare instances where one or more of these rules were ignored or other handling errors have led to injuries on a shooting range or in the field. This is where an IFAK is invaluable.
A gunshot wound is a serious trauma that can be fatal. The rapid application of first aid until a trained paramedic or advanced medical intervention can be vital to saving a life in these extremely rare cases. A properly equipped IFAK will give the first aider the best chance of success at providing that first line of care.
But what items make up a proper IFAK for a recreational user of firearms?
First and foremost the IFAK requires a trauma bandage. This is a thick absorbent sterile dressing with an attached bandage, ideally one that is easy to apply and can maintain constant pressure on a penetrating wound. One of the easiest and most popular to use is referred to as an Israeli bandage.
The Israeli bandage is an advanced form of military field dressing, an all-in-one sterile dressing and bandage material that can apply ample pressure to a bleeding wound in order to prevent rapid blood loss. As any first aid practitioner will know, is takes only a few minutes of bleeding for severe shock to occur, and after only a few minutes, that shock can be irrecoverable.
One of the advanced in medical care has come out of recent war experiences, but it is an important one that can preserve a life in the event of a serious bleeding trauma such as a gunshot wound. A clotting agent is a granule powder or bandage pad that chemically interacts with blood in order to cause coagulation, effectively “clotting” the wound in a rapid manner.
One such product is the Celox V12090 applicator kit. The kit uses a plunger applicator to insert blood-clotting agent granules directly into an open wound. The granules essentially turn the blood into a thick, gel-like substance that stops further bleeding. The granules are a hemostatic agent, a type of chemical that causes blood to stop flowing. This prevents shock from rapid blood loss, and will prolong the life of a person with a deep penetrating wound until advanced medical care can be obtained.
Proper EMT shears are essential to cut away clothing from wound areas. This makes application of dressings and other items much easier, and supports basic first aid principles such as casualty examination.
A tourniquet used to be a first aid item that many course providers would eschew in favour of obtaining proper medical care. However, there is a movement to return back to tourniquets in standard first aid training as a way of addressing severe bleeding, particularly arterial, in cases where even waiting for a paramedic will put the casualty at risk.
Also, people take their sporting activities to places far away from rapid medical first response. Hunters could be minutes or hours away from a major road, in deep bush, when the need arises to stop arterial bleeding.
An advanced, purpose-made tourniquet offers the best chance of stopping the most severe of blood loss in a limb, with the greatest chance of retaining use of that limb in the future, when applied as directed.
A penetrating wound to the chest almost always means a tension pneumothorax, which can be fatal within minutes. To prevent air from rushing into a chest cavity, and preventing the lung from expanding to give proper air exchange.
A Fox Seal is a great example of a compact, sterile chest seal designed for addressing a penetrating chest wound.
These are some of the basic items that should go into any shooter’s IFAK, along with a pair of non-latex gloves and a pouch to fit it all into.
Of course, if the kit stays in the car at the shooting range, it does no one any good, so we recommend having it within arms reach at all times, preferably on a belt attachment.
It is not enough to just simply buy and have these important trauma items. Getting trained on how to use them is just as important. There are many first aid instructors who offer trauma first aid courses.
No matter what type of shooting you do, and how rare a firearms accident usually is, the need for rapid, life-saving intervention can arise at any unforeseen time. Hopefully, you will never need one, but the IFAK is an essential piece of equipment for every firearms user.