Whether you piece together a first aid kit or buy one fully assembled, the American Red Cross advises you to keep one at home and another in your car. Inspect each kit on a regular basis to make sure your supplies are fresh. Check the expiration dates on all medication and make sure the packaging on sterile equipment hasn't decomposed or been nibbled on by animals or insects.
According to the Red Cross, properly stocked first aid kits need a variety of compresses, bandages and gauze pads suitable for dressing different types of wounds. Start with the basics: adhesive bandages in assorted sizes, cloth tape, 5-inch by 9-inch compress dressings, roller bandages and gauze pads. Don't forget antiseptic wipes, necessary for cleaning the wound area before bandaging it.
Anyone treating a victim should wear latex gloves. The Red Cross recommends keeping two pairs, size large, in your first aid kit. If you have room, add a few extra pairs in case one tears or additional people arrive on the scene and can help you. Other sterile medical supplies you'll need include scissors, tweezers and a non-glass thermometer. Look for a digital or "spirit-filled" thermometer; if these break, you don't have to deal with mercury contamination. You should also have a CPR mask with a one-way valve to help a victim who has stopped breathing.
The American College of Emergency Physicians suggests you include the phone numbers of your family doctor, veterinarian and any other physicians your family sees on a regular basis. Just in case 911 isn't available, have the number of your local Poison Control Center, police, fire and ambulance services. If any member of your family takes prescription medication, ask your doctor to write an extra prescription to be placed in your first aid kit. This goes for pets, too. If you wear contact lenses, consider storing a pair of glasses in your kit instead of the necessary cleaning solutions.
Sometimes first aid emergencies go hand-in-hand with larger emergencies such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Keep basic survival supplies on hand -- either in your first aid kit or a separate emergency survival kit. Ready.gov recommends you keep sufficient food and water on hand for three days. Store one gallon of water per person per day, and stock up on non-perishable foods like cereal, crackers, dried fruit and nuts. Other useful items include flashlights, batteries, maps, dust masks, a whistle, a can opener and a hand-crank weather radio that can pick up emergency broadcast signals without using batteries.
Now is the time to get the training you need to handle an emergency -- before someone around you is injured. Take a CPR or emergency training course from providers like adult schools, community colleges, private training companies or the Red Cross Preparedness Program. During the emergency itself, your 911 operator is your main resource for getting help. If the system puts you on hold, don't hang up and call back. This just puts your call farther back in the waiting list to be answered.
The Red Cross: Anatomy of a First Aid Kit
American College of Emergency Physicians: Home First Aid Kits
Ready.gov: Get a Kit
The Red Cross: CPR, First Aid and AED
Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department: 911 Emergency Number
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