If you are an active spotter/chaser, you run a pretty good chance of eventually arriving first on the scene of destroyed homes or communities. These scenes can be a very dangerous environment with many hazards ranging from panicked citizens and animals to downed power lines that can re-energize at any time. Knowing what to do and what not to do can not only save your life, but the lives of others. Spring severe weather season brings with it a lot of discussions about what to do or not do when coming across storm damaged areas. Your actions can truly save lives, or can make the problem worse. We would like to provide some basic tips to keep you safe while making a big difference for those needing help.
STEP 1, CALL 911. The first critical step every spotter/chaser should take when either witnessing or coming upon destroyed homes is to activate the first response system as soon as possible. This is usually through calling 911, but can also be performed through HAM and other communications. It is critical that the notification is made as soon as possible to allow dispatch systems to both gauge the magnitude and location of the damage path and to send resources. TIME IS CRITICAL! Notification in itself is the first form of “Rendering Aid”, and for those with little or no first aid or incident safety training, calling 911 immediately may be the most important thing you can do to help.
STAY ALIVE, WAIT FOR HELP TO ARRIVE. What you do after calling 911 depends upon your training, capabilities, and comfort level. I advocate that no one puts themselves in a situation in which they get themselves hurt and/or become part of the problem. YOUR SAFETY IS THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY! Remember, these disaster scenes are riddled with things that can hurt you or kill you. The simple act of walking through a disaster scene is one of the most dangerous things first responders do, and they are trained to mitigate or avoid the hazards. Calling 911 and staying back until properly equipped firefighters arrive may be your best option. Rendering Aid can be as simple as little things like offering a storm victim a place to sit out of the rain, offering them a drink of water, or just showing you care during their time of need.
Good Samaritan laws generally protect people who stop to help as long as their actions are reasonable and within their scope of training/education. If you are a trained in first aid, you can perform those activities that you have been trained on, but you must perform them the way you were trained. Keep in mind, the more training or medical/rescue equipment you carry with you means the more liability you assume. In some states, trained professional first responders may be required to stop and help (if they are within the state they are certified).
GET TRAINING. We would like to encourage every spotter reading this to get formal first aid and CPR training. One of the first steps taught in providing first aid is “Scene Safety”, if the scene is not safe, do not proceed (see the previous topics!). Having first aid and/or CPR training does not make you a first responder, but it helps to guide you to safely help those you may come across that are injured. You will never know when you will have to put your first aid training to use and your first patient may end up being yourself or a loved one. It pays to know first aid and CPR. It is a very good thing to be able to make a positive difference!
A fantastic program that offers disaster and emergency scene training is “Community Emergency Response Training” or CERT training. For more information go to: https://www.ready.gov/community-emergency-response-team
BE HELPFUL, BUT DON’T GET IN THE WAY. When the first responders arrive, their initial action will be to provide a “size-up” of the area. This “size-up” is used to determine the number of resources needed to manage the incident. The most helpful thing you can do for a first arriving responder is to let them know what you know in 10 seconds or less. If you have training, you may offer your help, they may or may not need it. Remember that the initial first responders may be stressed just trying to understand the magnitude of the incident (size-up). Do not take shortness or lack of interest personal, they have a big job to do and they are trying to figure out what they need to address. Be ready to get out of the way once you have provided them with your report. If you have done this correctly, I can attest that it is appreciated, even though the first responders may not show it at that moment.
In closing, “Rendering Aid” comes in many forms and is the human side of spotting/chasing when you are the first one to roll into a storm ravaged area. It starts with calling 911 to get help on its way to those who need it. It may be the only thing you can do, but it is a critical lifesaving action. Your first obligation is always to ensure your own safety. It is good to be a Good Samaritan!
Randy Denzer is the Public Safety Director for the Spotternetwork and a professional Fire Battalion Chief.