My husband and I have lived in rural New Hampshire for over 20 happy years. We really enjoy driving on dirt roads and skies where it looks like you can touch the stars as there is so little light pollution. Still, there are many drawbacks to living in a rural area. One is no delivery pizza.
The second is you are really dependent on your neighbors for support if there is an emergency. The majority of the fire departments here are all volunteer. That means if there is a fire, the volunteers must leave work or wherever they are and drive to the department and then drive to the fire. This is also true for other things such as car accidents.
Last Saturday my husband and I were driving up to our small lake cabin when we heard a noise. We turned the corner to find a horrific crash had just taken place. My husband is trained in emergency care and I know basic first aid and CPR. We park and ran over with our small first aid kit and found to our sorrow that three of the people involved were instantly killed.
There was a fourth person who was trapped and needed help. Thankfully 2 EMTs were driving by and stopped.
The first thing to be done, after checking the injured and dead, was traffic control. People were still trying to drive between the 2 vehicles involved. They were driving over what would puncture their tires (glass and metal) and also what could possibly be evidence as to the cause of the crash. So, volunteers put their cars across the road and my husband switched over to closing the road. He has a very deep voice and his years as a Navy Officer paid off as he ordered people to NOT come through and pull over!
Next was respect for the fatalities. I always carry a space blanket or two. They are very small and compact. Sadly in this case we covered the one woman that was ejected from the RV she was riding in. She appeared to be just resting by the side of the road. If nothing else, it was clear all the victims had felt nothing, and my only wish was that their families would know they went instantly. The EMT also checked, because of course you never assume someone is dead even from lack of a pulse, but it was clear there was nothing to be done.
A bad accident, but good people prepared to help. Rural living requires we all be ready for emergencies.
This was perhaps the hardest part. People were ready to help and do anything, but all that was needed was the road closed so that the ambulance and helicopter could get there without facing traffic.
It took 20 minutes for the first ambulance to arrive. The helicopter showed up soon after but was waved off since there were no victims to transport. The first off duty fire fighter showed up about 8 minutes after the accident, he simply made sure the right calls had been made and shook his head and said “You never get used to this.”
My husband and I left when the professionals got there, because giving space for all the emergency vehicles to investigate the deaths of three people was the priority. We drove to our cabin and my husband had to talk to our children on the phone. He is a very strong man, but he needed to talk to the children. Then he went for a very long walk. Later, we went for a shorter walk together. I cried for perhaps an hour after, because the shock of not being able to do anything and how sad I felt for the victims and their families was catching up to me.
What my husband and I did do though was ask our good friend and firefighter Chip Taylor what we should be carrying in our car that we weren’t. We carry space blankets and those things you squeeze and they turn instantly icy. (Those we find especially handy). We also have a basic first aid kit. But in NH and VT you may be 911 for people in an accident. My husband found he wishes he had a flag or something else to help with traffic control. It took a few minutes to get the road closed, and just having a flag or something would have helped.
So here are Chip’s suggestions for emergency gear we should all have in our cars!
So here are a few thoughts per your request. Keep in mind- my thinking only. Others may have additional and perhaps better ideas. The topic is a good one given that anyone who drives more than a mile to church only on Sunday will eventually come across an accident or other emergency situation that will need some kind of response. So a blog topic on this by you would be excellent.
I’d start by mentioning a story I read back when I was hiking up mountains… sometimes in winter: Seems that somewhere in Alaska or the Yukon there was a mountain man who did a lot of remote winter hiking. He caught a lot of flack from friends because he always carried a huge and backpack filled with all kinds of stuff that seemed unnecessary for back country hiking. But one day a couple who were cross country skiing and maybe 10 miles from the nearest road encountered him on the trail. The husband told him that they were facing a tough hike out as a screw broke on the wife’s ski binding and they’d have to hike through 3 ft deep snow. “Just a minute” the mountain man said. He took off his big pack and began to root around in it. “You won’t have anything in there to fix this binding” said the husband. But in bit the mountain man fished out a plastic tackle box filled with nuts, bolts and screws of various sizes. “Ah” said he, “Here’s just the sized screw you need to repair that binding. And here’s my screwdriver as well.” So sometimes overkill actually pays off.
Of course, you can’t stuff your car full of every possible item you think you might, someday, possibly need. So where do you draw the line? Much depends on where you live, where you travel and your own skill and comfort level. An MD might well carry items totally inappropriate to someone with no first aid skills at all. So, a few ideas from me and by all means add your own items or ask others:
1. Fire extinguisher– Because while car fires are rare, when there is one, there won’t be much left when the fire department arrives. These won’t
put out a large fire but can keep a small fire from becoming large. And they’re not all that expensive.
2. Blanket– Space Blanket or an ordinary wool blanket. Handy to cover the injured or to keep warm when stranded in the winter they can also
can protect from mud while changing a tire or be used for many other things.
3. Window breaker/seat belt cutter– Entrapment is rare and entrapment in a car sinking in water is even more rare. But when you need to get
into or out of a car a foot kick, rock or baseball bat won’t work. Front and rear windows are safety glass and really hard to break. Side
windows are tempered glass and kicking and punching are futile. Yet tempered glass can be completely shattered with a modest tap of something sharp.
Devices with a sharp point and a built in blade for cutting seat belts are inexpensive and handy.
4. Flashlight– Because who among us never drives after dark? The LED lights that have an elastic strap for your head are particularly handy as then
your hands are free.
5. Safety vest– Not necessarily for helping at an accident. Good insurance for any along the road emergency like changing a tire or helping someone else
with a break-down. These are required for highway workers and all emergency responder to highway incidents. Bright yellow vests with reflective tape are
quite small when rolled up and have Velcro tabs so fit anyone.
6. Road flares– Perhaps not a necessity for everyone… truckers, cops and fire/ambulance people all carry them and will use them if needed, but they ARE
handy and don’t take up much space- I carry a couple under the front seat and a couple more in a storage bin under the rear trunk. Not just for an
accident- if wires or a tree are down across a road you sure don’t want an unsuspecting motorist to plow into them… or you. But it’s important
to understand that flares need to be a long way out from whatever incident you are dealing with- a motorist going 60 MPH will need quite a few feet
in which to see an incident ahead and then apply the brake and get stopped. Plus you don’t want flares anywhere near a car leaking oil or gasoline.
7. Orange safety cones?– handy, but these take up a LOT of car space for something that likely wouldn’t be used that often. And emergency responders
always have them and will use them to secure a scene. One compromise might be what is called a “flags and flares kit”. Required to be carried by
truckers, these consist of those triangles you often see around a broken down truck, plus various kinds of warning flags, flashing lights and road flares.
Lots of combinations, and worth checking out an auto parts store.
8. Various other items? Personal choice and available space will be the deciding factor. I carry a pocket mask for CPR although do note that the latest
CPR for non-emergency responders is limited to just chest compression- the “breath of life” is for those with more advance CPR training. Still, it’s small,
and I’ll hang on to it. I also carry Nitrile (not latex) gloves like you see ambulance personnel using. Yes, the risk of getting an infectious disease from some
injured person is remote. But I recall helping at an accident scene in S.C. before EMTs arrived and when then driving on noticed a fair amount of blood
on my hands. Since then I carry those blue gloves. Plus if you need to change a tire, or work on an engine issue it’s nice to protect your hands. And
I also carry duct tape and a couple small tools- pliers and a pen knife can be handy. What else? Small notebook and pencil? Handy even if you already
have a cell phone and can send a text. Camera? Perhaps just for those of us who don’t have a cell phone with one. But some means of taking photos
is good. First aid kit? I don’t carry one as I’m not that highly trained in first aid. And unless you carry a full EMT kit how useful is a small compress or a
couple of Band Aids for a serious injury? Still, something to consider perhaps. I carry a heavy nylon tow rope but have only used it couple times over the years.
and in winters it might be handy to have. Mine fits in the spare tire well so doesn’t take up trunk space.
Thanks Chip! My husband and I plan to pack those safety vests because it would have really helped with the traffic control A vest says “I’m in charge”. Plus at night it would be important for safety.
We did not have a fire extinguisher, and if the small car involved in the accident had caught on fire it would have been even traumatic for these involved in body recovery. We plan to purchase one soon.
I have a key chain
that has a window breaker and seat belt cutter. I love it as it’s always with me.
You can purchase two for under $20. A hammer made for breaking car glass would also be useful for the glove box!
The important thing is that none of these are very expensive, and can save a life. It’s not only in rural areas that accidents happen. Even in cities, traffic can cause a delay in first responders arriving at an emergency.
Also, you don’t have to be trained in first aid to help direct traffic or put out a car fire. The horrible accident site we witnessed on Saturday was a reminder that we need to make room in all our cars for basic life saving tools.