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First Aid Kit or Trauma Kit?

Posted by Kerry "Pocket Doc" Davis on Oct 29th 2018

Is it a first aid or a trauma kit? OR… it both? The correct answer is that it should be either one or the other and that you should know, both, the differences AND the limitations of each. A first aid kit isn’t a trauma kit, though it can have some traumatic care items in it, and a trauma kit isn’t a first aid kit, by our definition. So, which is which? I’m glad you asked that question. Lemme ‘splain you….

Having a first aid kit is just as essential as having a trauma kit because they both fill very specific roles. What we want to do is try to separate “First Aid” from “Trauma” and clearly delineate what they are in our line of work.First Aid is what is done immediately after recognition of a sudden illness or injury, and to us, are the more minor, non-life threatening injuries. Our “boo-boo’s”, if you will.While, trauma is some type of injury which requires immediate actions to be taken in order to preserve life.

We try to separate our kits like that as well. Some might want to have some lifesaving equipment in their first aid kit full of little adhesive bandages, cotton swabs, tape, markers and other stuff. While it is very well-intentioned to do that, at the first hint of a life-threatening trauma, it’ll become a yard sale as all manner of stuff is being strewn in every direction while that “one” item is being sought out. A comprehensive first aid kit, while nice to have, tends to be on the rather large side, which is another reason we like to keep things smaller, more compact and easier to carry. The smaller, more compact and easier it is to carry, the more likely you are to carry it where it belongs; on your person.

A trauma kit has the basic necessities to help with the things that will kill us the quickest, the first being massive life-threatening hemorrhage. At a bare minimum, you need to have a pair of gloves (non-latex due to latex allergies) to protect you from body fluid-borne pathogens and a PROVEN tourniquet, not the latest “cool guy” “tourniquet” or a frickin’ knock off from China. Next, you should have some sort of hemostatic gauze (notice I said “gauze” and not hemostatic granules). Get something like QuikClot Bleeding Control Dressing or a chitosan-based product like ChitoGauze along with a pressure dressing to reinforce the hemostatic agent and hold it in place. Those are literally the basic foundations of a “trauma” kit. If you can, add a pair of compact chest seals in there as well so that you have the ability to “stop the bleeding and start the breathing”.

Here are a few things your first aid or trauma kit doesn’t need in them unless you are trained AND certified to use them: Suture kits, field surgical kits, chest decompression needles, surgical airway kits, chest tube kits, endotracheal tubes or any other advanced, invasive procedure devices. Why? They are a HUGE liability and they take up valuable space that could be occupied with more pertinent devices like tourniquets and hemostatic gauze. If you are qualified for use, these items are usually in your med ruck (bag). This is key. Your trauma kit is for immediate life saving response. Work out of your ruck once you’ve stabilized the patient.

I’ve yet to hear of a major trauma victim needing to be sewn up in the field at the site of the injury. A band aid, thermometer, or electrolyte powder can’t do much for life threatening bleeds or a hole in the chest. Any of the other stuff I mentioned, unless you’re an MD, NP or PA, stay away from it. I don’t care if you watched it on YouTube or took a TCCC class, unless you have those licenses you CANNOT legally perform those procedures and even if you’re a CCEMTP or Flight Paramedic, you can’t perform them unless you’re under direct medical control.

Basically, keep your first aid kits limited to first aid situations and your trauma kit limited to trauma situations. Having that clear delineation will greatly increase your chances of finding what you need should the situation arise. Only place items in them with which you have been trained on or you are otherwise certified to use.

Buying a kit because it’s cheap and has a lot of “stuff” in it is certainly not the way to go. The more stuff you have in a kit is more items you have to dig through to get what’s needed. What’s your life worth? Certainly it’s worth more than a suture kit, a non-proven “tourniquet”, some gauze and a boat load of adhesive bandages packed in a cool looking pouch, isn’t it? Do your homework and research the items which go in a solid trauma kit. Know the difference between hemostatics (gauze, sponges, granules). Know which tourniquets have solid, peer-reviewed data available. The list can go on and on but the short story is, buy solid products with the science and proven track record behind them.

Know the basics of trauma management and stick to them. Ensure simplicity under stress. Use first aid items for first aid, trauma items for trauma and keep them in their own specific kits.If you “Stop the bleeding and start the breathing”,everything else will fall into place.

Get a real kit, learn how to use the kit and carry the kit. The time chooses you. Will you be ready?