Note: With gun violence against protesters becoming a reality, we’re sharing our friend Tacticool Girlfriend’s guide to the IFAK, or Individual First Aid Kit. We’re also hosting the earlier text version of the guide on this page, with permission.
Originally intended for those training with firearms, recent events have shown the immediate need for knowledge that can save lives in the event of gun violence on the street. These are tools you can buy now to save lives.
In addition to getting the gear, you should absolutely get training on how to use it correctly. We highly recommend finding a Stop the Bleed course to learn wound packing and tourniquet use, and Basic Life Support for CPR.
We talk a lot about making holes, but I think plugging holes is equally, if not more important. The Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) is an essential set of tools that every shooter should bring to the range - I won’t go without it. Make sure you get proper medical training and have some bare essentials just in case things go bad. This write-up is absolutely not authoritative from a medical standpoint and should never be substituted for proper instruction from a medical professional. This is simply a review of what implements I personally choose to be competent with and carry.
Let’s first cover the some essential tools and accessories. A lot of these are forgotten when they very well may be the most vital. This includes some of the first gear you grab and other various items that may come in handy to address a myriad of injuries. Nitrile/latex-free gloves (just in case your patient is latex allergic!) to first and foremost prevent yucky things getting into your patient and increasing the risk of infection, as well as preventing yucky things from getting on you and doing the same - minimize contamination! Wet alcohol wipes also aid in both preventing infection as well as cleaning up a wound area to get a better idea of what you’re dealing with. A proven, robust pair of trauma shears are essential for quickly tearing away clothing that may be difficult to remove otherwise in order to expose wounds and address them. A sharpie is a must-have to record the time of application on tourniquets for first responders to reference. Other items such as various sizes of gauze, tweezers, tape, and safety pins may come in handy as well when cleaning up wounds and securing dressings.
Next, let’s talk about the essentials for addressing traumatic injuries. At least two tourniquets (I carry three) are recommended for arterial limb bleeds that cannot be stopped by pressure bandages alone - the CAT tourniquet comes as my number-one recommendation for simplicity and ease of use.
Compression trauma dressings are otherwise very useful for covering and applying pressure on severe bleeds on limbs as well as certain applications on abdominal and head injuries. Occlusive chest seals are essential for any punctures into the thoracic/chest cavity - this is especially critical for aiding in the prevention of tension pneumothorax. Carry at least two, as an entry and exit wound are likely if punctured by a projectile. Hemostatic gauze may come in handy as a last resort for deep and/or wide wounds that won’t stop bleeding. Surgeons usually don’t appreciate their use as that they can often expand the scope of damage to the wound channel they are applied to - I need to stress that they should be used only if absolutely critcal to stopping the bleed. Lastly, some may opt to carry decompression needles and nasopharyngeal airways, but these require some specialized physiological understanding and training that is subjective to the patient’s body - use your best judgement, and as always, get professional instruction on a regular basis.
Last, but not least, let’s examine preventative measures and the boo-boo kit. These are the items you almost certainly are going to use the most. A full-size emergency blanket is essential in case a patient is at risk for hypothermia - do not underestimate how deadly even mild temperatures can be for someone who may be injured. Electrolyte tablets are a great addition to water in order to address dehydration and prevent the onset of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Pain killers are a useful addition for relieving minor aches and pain. Be careful with these! NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin) slow blood clotting and should never be administered to a bleeding patient. No medicine should ever be administered to a patient unless they consent and verify that they have taken them in the past without complications. Pepto-Bismol tablets are handy to keep in the event of digestive discomfort. Antibiotic ointments like Neosporin are great for topical use in preventing infection minor cuts and scrapes.
Lastly, a wide assortment of band-aids, steri-strips, and dressings for smaller wounds are essential to covering your bases for any minor injuries that may occur. Please be sure you’re getting your items from a reputable dealer and manufacturer. There’s a lot of fake CAT tourniquets being sold on third party channels with sub-par plastics that will break when used - don’t ever put yourself in that position. I strongly recommend North American Rescue (www.narescue.com) as a go-to for the most critical items in your kit. My kit is all contained in a Condor Rip-Away EMT Pouch.
This was just an anecdotal peek at my IFAK, yours may look entirely different. Every individual should tailor theirs to their needs, competence, and comfort. Carrying a bunch of items you aren’t proficient using under stress will likely cause more problems than solve them. Do no harm always first and foremost.