First Aid Tips
A First Aid and CPR training course will provide useful and practical information on how to recognize, treat and prevent injuries. We hope these tips and resources will inspire you to register for one of our certification courses to gain the skills and knowledge to respond to life’s emergencies.
The Red Cross First Aid App
The official Canadian Red Cross First Aid app puts lifesaving advice in your hands. Available for Apple and Android mobile devices, the app helps you maintain your first aid skills and respond to everyday emergencies. By downloading the app on your smartphone or tablet, you get instant access to videos, interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice to help you maintain your life-saving skills and respond when needed. Download the app to keep lifesaving help in your hands.
- Simple, step-by-step instructions guide you through everyday first aid scenarios.
- Fully integrated with 911, so you can call EMS from the app at any time.
- Videos and animations to help you sharpen your first aid skills.
- Safety tips for everything from severe winter weather to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes, to help you prepare for emergencies.
- Preloaded content means you have instant access to all safety information at any time, even without reception or an Internet connection.
- Interactive quizzes allow you to earn badges that you can share with your friends and show off your lifesaving knowledge.
First Aid Kit Essentials
Keep a first aid kit readily available in your home, cottage, car, boat, workplace, and recreation area. Store it in a dry place and replace used or outdated contents regularly. A first aid kit should contain the following:
- Emergency telephone numbers for EMS/9-1-1, your local poison control centre, and your personal doctors
- Home and office phone numbers for family members, friends, or neighbours who can help
- Sterile gauze pads (dressings) in small and large squares to place over wounds
- Adhesive tape
- Roller and triangular bandages to hold dressings in place or to make an arm sling
- Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
- Safety pins
- Instant ice packs
- Disposable non-latex gloves, such as surgical or examination gloves
- Flashlight, with extra batteries in a separate bag
- Antiseptic wipes or soap
- Pencil and pad
- Emergency blanket
- Eye patches
- Barrier devices, such as a pocket mask or face shield
- Coins for pay phone
- Canadian Red Cross first aid manual
Emergency Supplies Kit
Have supplies ready for an emergency. Store them in a backpack or a duffle bag so you can take them with you if you have to evacuate the area.
- Four litres of water per person per day (use sealed, unbreakable containers and replace the supply every six months)
- Packaged or canned food that won’t go bad, and a can opener (replace the food once a year)
- Walking shoes, rain gear, and a change of clothing
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- A first aid kit and prescription medications (check the medications every six months to make sure they haven’t passed their expiry date)
- Toilet paper and other personal supplies
- An extra pair of glasses
- A battery-powered radio and flashlight, along with extra batteries
- Spare cash
- An extra set of car keys
- A list of your family doctors
- Important family information such as a list of any medical conditions or medical devices, such as pacemakers
- Photocopies of all important identification for you and your family, including health card numbers
- Special items for babies, elderly, or disabled household members
- Cell phone and contact information for family and friends
Emergency Car Kit
Keep an emergency kit in your car.
- A battery-powered radio and flashlight, with extra batteries
- A blanket
- Booster (jumper) cables
- A fire extinguisher
- A Canadian Red Cross first aid kit and manual
- Bottled water and high-energy foods that won’t go bad (replace the water every six months and the food once a year)
- Maps of the area
- A shovel
- A tire repair kit and pump
- Matches and a “survival” candle in a deep can that will burn for many hours
Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Attack
- Squeezing chest pain
- Problems breathing
- Abdominal or back pain (more common in women)
- Cold, sweaty skin
- Skin that is bluish or paler than normal
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaw pain
Note: Not everyone experiences chest pain during a heart attack. During a heart attack, many women, elderly people, and people with diabetes tend to experience “soft signs”, including: Mild, unfocused chest discomfort that:
- Comes and goes
- Doesn’t feel like pain
- Starts mild and gets continually stronger
- Gets better with rest
- Gets worse with activity
- Gastric discomfort
- Flu-like symptoms
Note: Men may have these signs as well.
Signs & Symptoms of a Stroke
Remember FAST: Face – facial numbness or weakness, especially on one side Arm – arm numbness or weakness, especially on one side Speech – slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding Time – time is important; call EMS/9-1-1 immediately Other signs and symptoms of a stroke include:
- A sudden, severe headache
- Dizziness or confusion
- Unconsciousness or temporary loss of consciousness
- Sudden loss of bladder control
The Canadian Red Cross recognizes that compression-only CPR is an acceptable alternative for those who are unwilling, unable, untrained, or are no longer able to perform full CPR. In some cases, compression-only CPR is the preferred method for members of the public who witness an adult suddenly collapse. The issue has recently emerged based on research published in the journal Circulation and based on scientific evidence released from members of the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR). Chest compressions pump the heart, circulating oxygen already in the person’s body. This makes compression-only CPR suitable for an adult who suddenly collapses. Compression-only CPR should not be used when the oxygen in the person’s body has likely been used up, such as with a drowning incident or when a respiratory emergency may have caused the cardiac arrest. When an infant or child’s heart stops, it’s usually because of a respiratory emergency, such as choking or asthma, which use up their body’s oxygen, therefore they would require full CPR, including rescue breaths. “Compression-only CPR is giving continuous chest compressions of approximately 100 compressions per minute, without giving rescue breaths,” says Rick Caissie, National Director, First Aid, Swimming & Water Safety. The most important thing for Canadians to know right now is that the CPR they’ve been trained to perform is not “wrong.” All Canadian Red Cross CPR courses will continue to teach full CPR. Early CPR remains one of the most critical factors in surviving cardiac arrest. The basic steps remain the same:
- Get help – call 911 to activate your local emergency medical system.
- Start CPR to keep the blood flowing.
CPR is easy to learn and saves lives. Full CPR (cycles of chest compressions and rescue breaths) is still important to learn. It is critical to know what to do during an emergency. Red Cross first aid and CPR training can give people the skills and the confidence to act in an emergency.
With the change of seasons comes a renewed focus on the flu and the ways we can protect ourselves against infection. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. Up to ten per cent of the Canadian population is affected by the flu each year. Those that are generally healthy will experience symptoms to varying degrees and recover fully in a week to ten days. But for young children, the elderly or those with a chronic illness, the flu can be life-threatening. Preventing infection in the first place is key. There are many variations of the viruses that cause the flu, and they also change over time. Based on viral strains or families, vaccines can be developed for use against infection. As these strains change somewhat each year, the vaccine is updated annually. Viruses are spread through direct contact (within one to two metres, airborne transmission) or indirect contact (surfaces). Signs and symptoms of the seasonal flu vary from one person to another but usually include a combination of:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches and pains
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur.
- Wash your hands often, using plenty of soap and warm water. Germs can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours.
- Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often throughout the day.
- Disinfect common surfaces in your home such as doorknobs and light switches. At work, disinfect items such as your keyboard and telephone.
- Cover your mouth when you cough, and sneeze into a tissue or the inside of your sleeve.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth to keep germs from entering your body.
- If you become sick, stay at home. This will prevent the spread of germs to other employees in your workplace as well as people you may come into contact with through your daily routine.
Talk to your health care provider about the annual flu shot and if that would be the right option for you and your family.
Safe Winter Driving
Every year, winter weather is a factor in thousands of preventable motor vehicle collisions. Defensive driving and adjusting driving to the road conditions are key. It’s also important to recognize hazards on the road and leave plenty of time to react and respond so you remain in control of your vehicle. Prepare your vehicle in advance and make sure to keep it stocked with emergency supplies.
- Take care of seasonal maintenance in the fall.
- Invest in a full set of winter tires and keep them on your car for the duration of the season. Winter tires are not just for snow, they are designed to perform better and give you improved traction in cold temperatures.
- Check tire air pressure frequently, as it decreases in cold weather.
- Keep essential supplies in your vehicle – a first aid kit, flashlight, blanket, small shovel, sand/kitty litter (for traction), booster cables, extra windshield fluid, a snow brush/ice scraper, an extra set of mittens or gloves, warm hat and boots.
- Keep your gas tank at least half-full at all times throughout winter.
- Carry a fully-charged cell phone and use it only when safe. Do not use while driving unless your device is hands-free.
Make sure you check the weather before you head out. If you decide to drive, make sure you can see properly and be seen, and always let snowplows through.
- Listen to the weather report before you head out and beware of conditions such as blizzards and black ice, which are especially treacherous to drive in.
- Avoid driving in bad weather whenever possible, particularly when visibility and road conditions are compromised.
- Make sure you can see properly and be seen by others by clearing your car of all snow and ice, and turning your lights on when visibility is poor.
- Clear all windows, lights, mirrors, and the roof before you set out.
- Never pass a snowplow—stay well back for your own safety and to allow them to do their job.
- It is extremely dangerous to pass either between or around snowplows, and the road surface is always better behind the plow than in front of it.
- If you get stuck or stranded, don’t panic. Stay with your vehicle for safety and warmth, and call for help.
- Slow down and make sure to control skids properly.
- It takes longer to stop on snow-covered or icy roads—reduce your speed and leave ample distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
- Allow extra travel time to your destination and extra time and space to change lanes and turn safely.
- Slow down enough to avoid any abrupt turns or stops, which can result in a skid.
- In a skid, drivers need to act contrary to their instincts, steer into the skid and accelerate to regain control of their vehicle.
Warmer weather means more outdoor activities such as bike riding so it’s a good time of year to review bike safety awareness. With three out of four children in Canada having a bicycle, the Red Cross says cycling is great exercise and a way for children to learn responsibility. Parents and caregivers should encourage biking while stressing safety, including mandatory use of properly fitted and secured helmets. Speed, inexperience and not wearing protective gear are among leading causes of cycling injuries for children. About a third of hospital emergency visits for children with cycling injuries involve broken bones, and one in 10 cycling deaths or serious injuries result from collisions with vehicles.
Tips to encourage bike safety:
- Ensure children wear properly fitted and secure helmets (studies show children between ages 10 and 14 are the group least likely to wear a helmet).
- Use reflective stripes on clothing and bicycles, and use flickering lights (even during daylight hours) to make cyclist more visible to motorists.
- Keep away from busy streets and parking lots.
- Know and obey traffic rules when cycling on the road.
- Bike with a buddy – if children or youth are cycling any distance without parental supervision, bike with a buddy, agree in advance on a return time and stick to a route that’s familiar, illuminated and avoids secluded areas.
- Have first aid training to have the skills and confidence to provide emergency treatment for common cycling injuries like falls, fractures or bleeding.
Backyard pools can provide many hours of summer fun, but they can also be dangerous. Owning a backyard pool or hot tub comes with the responsibility of ensuring its safe use. Most often, children who drown do so in a pool when a caregiver is not paying attention, if only for a second. These drownings primarily involve young children who gain access to a pool without a self-closing and self-latching gate.
There are simple steps that families can follow to keep their backyard pools safe.
- Build a fence that has a self-closing and self-latching gate; keep the gate closed with restricted access at all times. Refer to your municipal bylaws for fencing requirements.
- Establish pool rules. These can include: swim with a buddy, children must have an adult with them at all times, and no glass containers around the pool.
- Few backyard pools are safe for diving – swimmers should always enter the water feet-first.
- Have readily accessible reaching or throwing assists, a working phone and first aid kit.
- Have an Action Plan including adult supervision, an emergency signal, safety equipment and emergency procedures.
- Keep the deck clear of toys and debris.
- Do not use alcohol or drugs in or around the pool.
- Small on-ground portable or kiddie pools should be emptied when not in use. Above-ground pools should have the ladder or steps removed when not in use.
- Hot tubs should not exceed 104° F or 40° C and are not recommended for pregnant women, toddlers or infants.
Active adult supervision is of the utmost importance – never leave your child unattended, not even for a second.
- Lifejackets or PFDs should be worn by weak or non-swimmers, but they are not substitutes for supervision by an adult with good swimming skills, or a lifeguard.
- Enroll your children in Red Cross swimming lessons.
- Adults who are weak swimmers should also take lessons, and have first aid training.
- Take your children with you if you have to leave the pool for any reason.
Pick the best time of the day to swim. Avoid swimming at night and in stormy weather.
- The best time to swim is during the daytime. If there is thunder or lightning, stay out of the pool.
- Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 even on cloudy days, and reapply every 3-4 hours.
- Wear a wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and light clothing to cover your skin whenever possible.
Many Canadians will participate in activities on the open water this summer. Sadly, tragic and preventable water-related fatalities occur each year. An average of 400 Canadians drown each year, and a Red Cross research report examining 10 years of drowning statistics showed that young children ages 1 to 4 and men ages 15 to 44 are at the greatest risk of drowning. Often, the risk of water-related injury or death when in, on or near the water is far greater than perceived. There are several steps that swimmers and boaters can take to stay safe when in, on, or around the water.
Never underestimate the power of currents. A boater, swimmer or wader in open water who underestimates the power of currents can be swept away instantly.
- Open water is very different than swimming in a pool – distance is deceiving, and you often have to contend with cold water, waves, currents, drop offs, sandbars, water visibility, undertows, and underwater obstacles, as well as motorcrafts.
- River currents, especially when concentrated around rocks, bridge pilings, and in hydraulics at the base of dams, have enormous power and can easily trap even strong swimmers.
- If you become caught in a river current or fast moving water, roll onto your back and go downstream feet first to avoid hitting obstacles head first. When you are out of the strongest part of the current, swim straight toward shore.
- If your boat has overturned, hang on to the upstream end of the boat.
Always swim with a buddy and check the weather conditions before venturing into the water.
- Be aware of currents, water temperature, and depth when swimming in open water.
- Wind and waves frequently come up suddenly, posing a major threat for swimmers and boaters far from sheltered waters in lakes and on the ocean. Advance verification and ongoing observation of weather conditions is essential.
- Obey signs and signals (such as flags) posted on the beach which indicate whether the water is safe to enter.
Lifejackets are like seat belts – they only work if you wear them, and wear them properly.
- Each year, more than 160 tragic and preventable boating-related fatalities occur across Canada.
- Nearly 90 per cent of boaters who drown are not wearing, or are not properly wearing, their lifejacket.
- Alcohol was present or suspected for at least 41 per cent of powerboat drownings.
- A Red Cross report examining 10 years of drowning trends concludes that if all adult men wore a lifejacket or PFD, up to 90 per cent of all boating-related drownings would be prevented.It’s not enough to have a lifejacket on board. It is unrealistic and unsafe to assume that a boater will be able to retrieve and properly secure a flotation device while falling overboard, capsizing or colliding with another boat or object.
Diving and Safe Water Entries
Diving is a popular water activity enjoyed by many -but the risk of head, neck and spinal cord injury also means diving could be extremely dangerous without proper training and taking appropriate precautions Before diving, it is important to think about how you’ll enter the water, and to make safe choices before you do so.
By the Numbers
- Diving is the leading sports-related cause of spinal cord injuries. Many diving incidents leave the diver completely paralyzed from the neck down.
- 95% of diving injuries occur in water 1.5m deep or less, in an unsupervised setting with no warning signs.
- The average person who suffers a diving-related spinal cord injury is male, 17-22 years old, with no formal training in diving and who is visiting the location for the first time.
- Statistics show that spinal injuries are rare during supervised diving into water that is at least 2.7m deep.
- Over half of diving injuries and deaths involve alcohol and/or drug use.
- Over 40% of spinal injuries caused by careless diving occur in backyard pools.
- In familiar and unfamiliar water, always enter feetfirst, the first time to be sure of the water depth and be aware of any hazards. Diving headfirst into water should be avoided unless the individual is properly trained and certain that the water is deep enough.
- There are many factors to consider when determining whether or not it is safe to dive: height, weight and skill level of the diver; length and depth of the diving area; and the height from which the dive will be taken. There isn’t a specific water depth that will be safe for all divers-what’s safe for one person might not be safe for another.
- Most in-ground home and hotel pools, even those fitted with a diving board, are unsafe for diving, particularly for adult males. The deep end is often too short and the diver can strike his head on the slope of the pool leading up toward the shallow end.
- Avoid alcohol when swimming or diving-even small amounts can increase the risk of injury.
- In open-water settings, obey “No Diving” signs/ markings and diving depth regulations.
- Check the shape and length of the pool or waterfront bottom to be sure the diving area is large enough and deep enough for the intended dive. It should be twice your height for the whole dive.
- Dive only where there is ample clearance from the point of entry to the up-slope in front of the take-off point (i.e. deck or dock). The presence of a diving board does not necessarily mean that it is safe to dive.
- Only dive in clear, unobstructed water. Always check first for objects under the surface such as logs, stumps, boulders and pilings, and be aware of variable or changing depths.
Hypothermia and Cold Water Safety
Water in Canada is cold. Be prepared! In cold weather you should wear multiple layers of dry clothing, a wind or waterproof outer layer and a PFD or lifejacket. Cold water protection gear can also be worn.
Some examples are:
- Wet suit
- Dry suit
- Immersion suit
- Survival suit
- Exposure coveralls
- Your skin and blood temperature in your arms and legs drop quickly
- You start shivering
- You may have trouble breathing and be unable to use your hands
- The temperature of your heart, brain, and other organs drops gradually
- You may become unconscious, and if you are in the water, you may drown
- If your body temperature drops further, you can die of heart failure
What are the signs?
- Continual shivering
- Poor coordination of movements
- Slowing down and falling behind
- Numb hands and feet leading to stumbling and clumsiness
- Dazed, confused, careless or forgetful behavior
- Slowed or slurred speech; slow response to questions
- Dilated pupils
- Decreased attention span
Increasing your odds
- Try to get your body out of the water. Climb onto the boat. Haul yourself onto a log or dock. Grab onto a floating object. Cold water depletes body heat faster than air.
- If you are alone and if you are wearing a Canadian-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD), slow down body heat loss through the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP). The HELP position can increase your survival time by 50%.
- Cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up. Remain calm and still. Do not try to swim. Unnecessary movement will use energy that your body requires to survive. Practice the HELP position with a friend in warm water!
- If you are with other people wearing PFDs, everyone should ‘HUDDLE’. You may increase your group’s survival time by 50%.
- HUDDLE with everyone’s chests and sides close together. Intertwine legs and extend your arms around the people next to you.
How do I prepare?
- Wear a Canadian-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
- Some PFDs provide insulation against cold water.
- Wear a whistle on your PFD or clothing. A whistle can be used to signal for help.
- In cool weather, wear rain gear over and/or wool clothes under your PFD. Wool insulates even when wet. Wear layers of clothing and a hat. As much as 60% of body heat loss occurs from the head.
- Carry matches in a waterproof container. A fire can help you warm up after exposure to cold or can help you signal for assistance.
- Bring high-energy food (e.g. chocolate bar) containing sugar.
- Check with your local weather office before you head out. Be alert to changes in the weather that could influence your safety.
- Be prepared. Don’t go out alone. Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you plan to return.
- It is always a good idea to leave a trip plan before going out on the water. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. A trip plan can be left with your local Coast Guard, a marina, friend or relative. Do not deviate from your filed trip plan.
- Know your craft and how to handle it in both calm and rough conditions. Do not overload.
- Avoid the use of alcohol. It doesn’t warm you up and will interfere with your ability to make critical judgments.
Holding Your Breath Underwater
Canadian Red Cross strongly discourages Canadians from trying to hold their breath under water for extended periods of time. How long you can safely hold your breath depends on a number of factors including age, body mass and overall health. Most people can hold their breath comfortably for about 1-2 minutes. Trying to hold your breath for much longer than this, especially under water, may be dangerous. Our bodies need both oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to survive. The impulse to breathe is triggered by a balance of O2 and CO2 in our blood stream. Many people will take several large, forced breaths or a series of short, fast breaths before trying to hold their breath under water for a long period of time. This is called hyperventilating, and it can disrupt the balance of O2 and CO2 in your body, fooling your brain into thinking that it doesn’t need to take another breath. If this happens, your body can quickly use up most of its available oxygen, and you can easily pass out. After you have passed out, the body’s natural responses will take over: you will gasp for breath, or you may stop breathing all together. Either way, if this occurs underwater, you are at serious risk for drowning. People have drowned in Canada in less than 15 centimetres of water. We encourage Canadians to swim safely: swim with a buddy, swim in supervised areas, enrol in a Red Cross Swim course.
Heat-related emergencies occur when the body becomes dehydrated, which may result in an increased body temperature. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, can happen to anyone who stays in the summer heat and sun for too long. Young children, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, and those taking certain medications can become ill in hot, humid weather faster than healthy adults. It is important for everyone enjoying the outdoors to know how to prevent heat emergencies, recognize when someone has been in the heat for too long, and be able to provide help when needed.
The Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Emergencies
- Cramps or muscle tightening, usually in the legs and abdomen but they can be in other parts of the body
- Dizziness, weakness, and feeling faint
- Skin that is redder or paler than usual, or moist skin
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Irritable, bizarre, or aggressive behaviour
How to Help
- Move the person to a cooler location
- Give the person cool water to drink in sips
- Have the person loosen any tight clothing
- Fan the person
- Put cool water on the person’s skin
- If the person’s condition is severe, put covered ice packs in each armpit and on the back of the person’s neck
- Call for help (EMS/9-1-1)
When you’re hot you sweat more than normal, so you need to drink more to replace the water your body is losing. Drink plenty of cool fluids, even if you do not feel thirsty, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. They can cause dehydration, which stops your body from controlling its temperature properly.
Preventing Heat-Related Emergencies
- Drink plenty of cool fluids — this is the most important step you can take.
- Avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.
- Know the humidex rating — it combines the temperature and humidity to indicate how hot, humid weather feels to the average person.
- Wear light, loose clothing to let air circulate and heat escape and always wear a hat.
- Apply sunscreen (with SPF 15 or higher) as sunburned skin reduces the body’s ability to cool itself.
- Slow down your activities as it gets hotter and don’t work, exercise, or play for too long at a time.
- Take a lot of breaks in a cool or shady area to let your body cool off. This will help if you do need to be outside when it’s really hot.