Should You Stop to Render First Aid to Tornado Victims?

Oct 15, 2015
Calgary, Canada
If this has been discussed at length elsewhere, feel free to refer me to that thread.

Just wanting to hear some folks' thoughts on whether they should render aid, and if so, how - that is, the best way of doing it without getting in the way of emergency crews, as well as safety considerations, legal considerations (ie. if you have a valid First Aid certificate, can you render aid etc), as well as personal experiences in doing so.

Arriving on the scene of a disaster is obviously very hazardous, so what are some considerations for remaining safe while offering help?
Kyle, great question sir... My situation might be unique as I am an army veteran who has been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and have had training in 2 combat lifesavers courses. The first few minutes involving a trauma victim can be the difference between life and death. Storm chasing is awesome but unfortunately sometimes a tornado hits a populated area and casualties occur. That's when my chasing stops and rendering aid is necessary. I know the professionals are on their way but until then I must do what I can.

First things first, my safety is important. Downed power lines, broken gas lines, fire, and water hazards must be observed. I can't help anyone if I'm electrocuted while standing in a puddle. Broken glass, sharp metal and pieces of wood are also danger items. We call this "situational awareness" in the army. Keep your head on a swivel and be alert/aware of everything in your environment.

Next, I prioritize who needs immediate attention. Stop, look, and listen. There will certainly be others in the impact zone that can help. Organize them into search and rescue teams. They will need leadership and instructions, and many of them may be in shock. Give instruction and they will obey, they want to help too. Listen for cries for help, usually people trapped under collapsed structures or damaged vehicles. Also be aware of tornado shelters that may have the door blocked by debris. Get them out so they can assist in the rescue process.

Locate a safe area where the injured can be brought so that when EMT's arrive they will have a central location for recovery and medical aid. First on the list is airway issues, then bleeding, then fractures, then lacerations. Prioritize the injured. Critical, severe, and then stable is a good way to determine who needs what and when. Those who know CPR should be found and enlisted to provide life saving assistance. If you save one life, you have done your job. I'm also aware I can't save everyone, put those thoughts aside, and do what you can. By the time you have done all these things, firefighters, police, and EMT's will be arriving. At that point, ask them if they require your assistance and do what they ask of you. There really is no better feeling than knowing you have helped others in their time of need.

I prefer tornadoes to occur in open fields of wheat and grass with no livestock in the way. We all know that isn't always the case, so rendering aid to my fellow man is an honor, duty, and challenge for me. Godspeed Kyle, and stay safe sir.
Here is my take on this subject as a chaser and a Tactical EMT who has witnessed and assisted at multiple disasters and accidents.

This is an individual choice. No one can force you to assist someone. There are no legal obligations. Morally, it's your choice. However, when I'm teaching a first aid class, I also ask the following question: "What if the inured person is someone you love. Would you want someone to save their life if they could?"

There are only a handful of things you can do to save someone who is seriously injured without advanced medical equipment. The most common is to stop bleeding. When you have multiple victims, the choices are clear if you have proper training.

You also have to consider the danger you place yourself in. As EMT's we are trained to never go into a scene until it is declared safe. Disasters usually require an exception unless there are obvious hazards like a green mist looming over the area. My tactical training provides me with better decision making skills. Disaster scenes are loaded with problems like chemical spills, electrical lines and falling debris. There are many situations where you can assist without treating victims. The best example is clearing roads and/or directing rescue crews to injured or trapped people. In some situations, roads may be blocked or street signs destroyed. If you do plan to assist, I strongly urge you to attend a class that not only provides basic life saving first aid instruction, but post-disaster safety. I plan to hold one of these classes in future if I can find a sponsor and location during the chase season. OKC?

At a minimum, you should carry the following if you plan to assist: At least four tourniquets (they are simple to learn how to use and can be left on for a lot longer than you think), a safety helmet, a good flashlight, work gloves, nail proof shoe / boot inserts (metal is best) a good knife / multi-tool and several sets of surgical gloves.

You should also remember that anything you do or say when assisting at a motor vehicle accident or disaster could be used later in court. In addition, would-be rescuers have been caught on video doing (or saying) things they would later regret. Dash cams, cell phone cams, police cams, etc. are everywhere. Not that "Good Samaritan" laws do not protect you, they do, but you could become entangled in other individual's lawsuits that will require you to spend a lot of time and energy down the line. Some have advised it's better to assist, then exit the scene without providing too much personal information.
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Well said Warren. If you have training, great! If you don't have any training, you should seriously look into it. As a general rule, it is wise to only do what you are trained to do. You don't want to make a bad situation worse by doing something you shouldn't do.
After you have helped out, I recommend too that you exit the area discretely without providing your name. Some people will say that it's a good idea to provide your name so people know who to thank later on. My thought is that you aren't helping out hoping to get attention anyway and you just want to help people out so leave your name on the teeth side of your lips. To get dragged into later legal ramifications isn't fun.

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I am a very 'basic' certified emergency medical responder. I'm trained and licensed for this through the Illinois Department of Public Health. I feel I would be morally responsible to stop and give basic medical first aid until more properly trained EMS personnel arrived, at least in my state. With that being said, I am not an EMT. I do carry a pretty resourceful first aid kit though where I can safely perform a basic medical assessment to such victims if needed. I've never had to do it, though. As someone in the emergency management field and academic sector, I feel that assisting a victim will always be priority over chasing/spotting activities. But I don't look down on those who don't do it, that sort of thing is a challenging situation. If you don't know at least somewhat of what you are doing, you could make a crisis into an even larger crisis. At the very least, you should call 911.