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Unveiling the Essentials: Understanding the Basics of First Aid

A green and white emergency sign on a brick wall, indicating safety measures.

Table of Contents

Sharon McCulloch

Understanding the basics of first aid is a fundamental skill that everyone should possess, especially in Australia where sporting activities are such an integral part of life and where love of the great outdoors can present a wide range of challenges. It’s not just about knowing what to do in case of emergencies; it’s about feeling confident and ready to act when unexpected situations arise. Whether it’s a minor injury or a life-threatening situation, the right knowledge can make a significant difference.

The Importance of First Aid Knowledge

Saving Lives in Critical Situations

First aid skills are crucial in those critical first minutes of an emergency especially when basic emergency life support is required. They can mean the difference between life and death. Being able to perform basic procedures, like CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), can save lives while waiting for medical professionals to arrive.

The following story was reported in the Daily Telegraph online, and highlights the power of first aid with CPR:

Every embrace Jeremy Nelson and Rachel Miles share with their son Xavier is a silent thank you to the two fathers whose CPR skills saved their 12-year-old’s life.

Only a third of parents are knowledgeable in CPR, fortunately for Xavier, two fathers with this essential skill were present when he suffered a cardiac arrest.

During a party on December 9, after exiting the pool, Xavier collapsed and ceased breathing.

The incident occurred at Chris Kirkwood’s home, where Mark Colston was also present to pick up his son, Leo. Upon noticing Xavier’s condition, Mr. Colston, 48, immediately started rescue breathing while Chris called for an ambulance and then proceeded with CPR. They continued CPR on Xavier for 11 minutes until the paramedics arrived. When Xavier’s parents arrived at the Haberfield residence, they were greeted by numerous emergency vehicles and were initially unable to see their son.

“The world stops in moments like these. Helicopters were flown in, and pediatric specialists were brought to stabilise him,” said Mr. Nelson.

Stabilising him took more than an hour, with CPR playing a crucial role in maintaining his circulation and brain oxygenation.

“The sight was horrifying. Seeing him for the first time, intubated and being placed into an ambulance, was heart-wrenching,” shared Ms Miles.

Two months on, Xavier has made a full recovery and his survival today is attributed to the quick-thinking and skilled first aid actions of those fathers.

Quick and efficient first aid can not only help save lives but also significantly reduce recovery time for the injured or ill person. Proper first aid can prevent conditions from worsening, thereby reducing medical costs and long-term recovery issues.

Enhancing Safety Awareness in the Community

Knowledge of first aid basics also promotes a safety-conscious attitude. It encourages both individuals and communities to be more aware of their surroundings and to take precautions to prevent accidents or emergencies.

A stethoscope on a table with cases and medicine

What Are the 3 P’s of First Aid?

Preserve Life

The primary goal of first aid is to preserve life until professional medical help arrives. This means acting quickly to ensure the safety of yourself and the injured person, providing immediate care, and maintaining their vital functions.

Prevent Further Injury

After ensuring life is preserved, the next step is to prevent the situation from worsening. This involves assessing the scene for any potential dangers, stabilising the injured person, and preparing for professional medical help.

Promote Recovery

Promoting recovery involves applying first aid techniques that help the injured person begin the healing process. This could mean applying a bandage, splinting a broken limb, or simply reassuring them to keep them calm.

What Are the 4C’s of First Aid?

  • Calm
    • Staying calm in an emergency is easier said than done, but it’s crucial. A calm responder can assess the situation more clearly and provide more effective aid.
  • Control
    • Controlling the situation involves managing the scene, ensuring the safety of others, and providing the necessary care to the injured person.
  • Care
    • Caring for the injured includes performing first aid procedures correctly and compassionately, offering comfort, and monitoring their condition until professional help arrives.
  • Call
    • Knowing when and how to call for emergency services is a critical part of first aid. In Australia, dialling triple zero (000) will connect you to the necessary emergency services.

The DRSABCD Action Plan Unpacked

The so-called 4 A’s of first aid include: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, and Deadly bleeding or Defibrillation. This is not necessarily a helpful acronym since only the first letter begins with an ‘A’. The principles of the 4 ‘A’s are covered in the DRSABCD protocol and at First Aid Pro we prefer and recommend using this mnemonic instead. This action plan is a step-by-step guide to responding to emergencies, particularly useful in life-threatening situations. The steps include:

  • Danger: Check the area for any potential danger to yourself or the injured person.
  • Response: Check if the person is responsive.
  • Send for Help: Call 000 for emergency services.
  • Airway: Ensure the person’s airway is clear.
  • Breathing: Check if the person is breathing.
  • CPR: If there is no breathing, start CPR.
  • Defibrillation: Apply a defibrillator if available and necessary.

If you would like to know more about this vital action plan and see a helpful chart to assist you with visualising the steps please read, ‘What does DRSABCD stand for, and what does it mean?‘ on the First Aid Pro website.

A person sitting on the floor with a backpack and medical supplies, ready to provide aid and assistance.

10 Basic First Aid Procedures Everyone Should Know

1. CPR:

Essential for treating victims of drowning, heart attack, or sudden cardiac arrest. The steps for performing CPR vary slightly depending on whether it is for adults, children, or infants. Here are the general steps for performing CPR:

For Adults:

  • Check the Scene: Ensure the area is safe for both the victim and the rescuer.
  • Call for Help: If you are alone, call emergency services or ask someone else to do so.
  • Open the Airway: Tilt the head back and lift the chin to open the airway.
  • Check for Breathing: Look, listen, and feel for breathing for no more than 10 seconds.
  • Start Chest Compressions: Place the heel of your hand on the centre of the person’s chest and interlock your fingers. Perform 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute.
  • Give Rescue Breaths: After 30 compressions, open the airway again and give two rescue breaths.

For Children and Infants:

  • Check the Scene and Call for Help.
  • Open the Airway and Check for Breathing.
  • Perform Chest Compressions: For children, use one or two hands, and for infants, use two fingers.
  • Give Rescue Breaths: For children, pinch the nose shut and make a complete seal over the child’s mouth. For infants, cover their mouth and nose with your mouth.

It’s important to note that these steps are a general guide, and proper CPR training is highly recommended for anyone who may need to perform CPR.

2. Treating Burns and Scalds:

Immediate cooling, covering, and care can prevent further damage. Basic first aid for treating burns and scalds involves the following steps:

  • Remove Clothing and Jewelry: Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of the skin, including babies’ nappies. However, do not try to remove anything that’s stuck to the burnt skin as this could cause more damage.
  • Cool the Burn: Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes as soon as possible after the injury. Never use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances like butter on a burn.
  • Cover the Burn: Use a light, loose, non-stick dressing. Plastic cling film is a good choice. If the burn is to an arm or leg, raise it whenever possible to reduce swelling.
  • Pain Relief: Treat the pain from a burn with paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Go to a hospital emergency department for large burns, deep burns, burns on the face, hands, feet, or genitals, and all chemical and electrical burns. Also, seek medical attention if the person has breathed in smoke or fumes, or if there are signs of infection or other complications.

3. Managing Bleeding:

First aid for treating bleeding involves the following steps:

For Severe External Bleeding:

Apply Direct Pressure: Use a clean cloth, tissue, or piece of gauze to apply direct pressure on the wound until the bleeding stops. If the blood soaks through the material, do not remove it. Put more cloth or gauze on top of it and continue to apply pressure.

Call for Help: If the bleeding is severe, call 000 or your local emergency services.

Maintain Pressure: Keep pressure on the wound until help arrives.

For Minor External Bleeding:

Clean the Wound: Clean the injured area with sterile gauze soaked in normal saline or clean water. Do not use cotton wool or any material that will leave lint or debris in the wound.

Apply Dressing: Apply an appropriate dressing such as a band-aid or a non-adhesive dressing held in place with hypoallergenic tape. This dressing must be changed regularly.

For Internal Bleeding:

Lay the Person Down: Lay the person down and raise their legs above the level of their heart.

Do Not Give Anything to Eat or Drink: Refrain from giving them anything to eat or drink.

It’s important to always call for professional medical help in cases of severe bleeding and to seek medical advice if there are any concerns about the severity of the injury.

4. Handling Sprains and Broken Bones:

For treating sprains and bone breaks, the following first aid steps can be taken:


Rest the Injured Limb: Avoid putting weight on the injured area for 48 to 72 hours. Crutches may be necessary.

Apply Ice: Use a cold pack, slush bath, or a compression sleeve filled with cold water to help limit swelling.

Compression and Elevation: Use a compression bandage and elevate the injured limb to help reduce swelling.

Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help manage pain.

Seek Medical Attention: If the sprain isn’t improving after two or three days, it’s important to see a doctor.

Bone Breaks:

Cover Wounds and Pad Around the Injury: If there are any wounds, cover them, and pad around the injury.

Support the Injured Part: Support the injured part above and below the joint using a splint or staff, strong bandaging.

Treat for Shock: If the person shows signs of shock, such as faintness, rapid pulse, or shallow breathing, it’s important to treat for shock.

Do Not Move the Injured Limb: Avoid attempting to move or reposition the injured limb.

Seek Medical Care: It’s essential to get medical care for all broken bones. Call 000 if there is a serious injury to the head, neck, or back, or if a bone comes through the skin.

5. Responding to Choking:

When providing first aid for choking, the following methods can be used:

Encourage Coughing: If the person is conscious and able to cough, encourage them to keep coughing to try to clear the blockage.

Back Blows: For a conscious adult or child over 1 year old who is choking, give up to 5 back blows. Stand behind the person and slightly to one side. Support their chest with one hand and lean them forward. Give up to 5 sharp blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand

Call for Help: If the person is still choking after back blows and abdominal thrusts, call 000 or your local emergency number.

Continue Until Help Arrives: Repeat the cycle of back blows until the object is dislodged or until emergency help arrives.

6. Dealing with Poisoning:

In Australia, the following are the basic first aid steps for poisoning:

Swallowed Poison:

Do NOT induce vomiting.

Pick up the bottle or packet.

Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for further instructions.

Eye Contact with Poison:

Flood the eye with cool water from a running tap or a cup/jug.

Continue to flush for 15 minutes, holding the eyelids open.

Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

Skin Exposure to Poison:

Remove contaminated clothing and flood skin with cool running water.

Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26

7. Treating Bites and Stings:

General first aid for bites and stings involves the following steps:

For Snake Bites:

Apply Pressure Immobilisation: This is recommended for all Australian snake bites, including sea snakes. Keep the person still, apply a firm bandage over the bitten area, then bandage the entire limb and apply a rigid splint. Call for emergency medical assistance.

For Spider Bites:

  • Redback Spider: Wash the affected area well with soap and water. Soothe the pain with cold packs or iced water for 15 minutes and reapply if the pain continues. For young children and infants seek emergency medical help immediately.
  • Funnel-Web Spider: Apply a broad pressure bandage over the bite site. Mark the site where the bite is on the bandage with an X. Apply a further elasticised roller bandage, starting just above the fingers or toes and moving upwards on the bitten limb as far as can be reached. Take the affected person to a hospital emergency room a.s.a.p.

For Insect Stings:

  • If the stinger is still embedded in the skin, remove it by gently scraping a flat-edged object across the skin. Wash the area with soap and water. Apply ice wrapped in a towel to relieve pain and swelling. Monitor for signs of allergic reaction.

8. Recognising and Responding to Allergic Reactions:

In case of an allergic reaction, especially a severe one, it’s crucial to act quickly and effectively. Here are the basic first aid steps for allergic reactions:

Mild to Moderate Allergic Reactions:

  • For mild symptoms such as hay fever or hives, give an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine.
  • For itchy allergic rash, apply cold compresses and an OTC hydrocortisone cream.

Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis):

  • Call for Emergency Assistance: In an emergency, always call the local emergency number (e.g., 000).
  • Administer Epinephrine: If the person has been prescribed an adrenaline injector (e.g., EpiPen®), administer it immediately into the outer mid-thigh.
  • Lay the Person Flat: Do not allow them to stand or walk.
  • Give Further Doses of Adrenaline: If there is no response after 5 minutes, further doses of adrenaline may be given.
  • Transfer to Hospital: Transfer the person to the hospital for at least 4 hours of observation.

9. Stroke Identification and First Response:

Recognise the Signs: Use the FAST acronym to recognise stroke symptoms:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call emergency services

Call for Emergency Assistance: If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call emergency services immediately. Stay as calm as possible while waiting for help.

Provide Comfort and Support: Talk to the person calmly and reassuringly. Ensure they are in a safe and comfortable position. Cover them with a blanket to keep them warm and do not give them anything to eat or drink.

Observe and Report: Observe the person for any change in their condition. Be prepared to tell the emergency operator about their symptoms and when they started. Mention if the person fell or hit their head.

Do Not Delay: A stroke is a true emergency, so seek immediate medical help.

10. Shock Management:

It’s important to act quickly and seek professional medical help when dealing with shock. These steps can help stabilise the person’s condition until emergency services arrive.

  1. Treat the Cause of Shock: If the person is in shock due to an injury or medical condition, address the underlying cause if it’s safe to do so.
  2. Position the Person: Have the person lie down with their legs elevated unless this causes discomfort or is not advisable due to a head, neck, back, or leg injury.
  3. Call for Emergency Assistance: Dial triple zero (000) or your local emergency number immediately.
  4. Loosen Tight Clothing: Make sure the person is warm and comfortable. Loosen any tight clothing, such as belts or collars.
  5. Monitor the Person: Keep the person still and calm. Reassure them and monitor their condition until help arrives.
A woman holds up a bad of fluids, connecting them to an IV drip.

First Aid Kits: Essentials for Every Australian Home and Workplace

A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have in every Australian home and workplace. Tailoring your kit to your specific environment and needs can further enhance safety.

The key components of a first aid kit should include the following items:

  • Adhesive bandages in various sizes
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment packets
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Disposable gloves
  • Triangular bandages
  • Emergency blanket
  • Breathing barrier
  • Instant cold compress
  • Roll of paper tape (for fragile skin)
  • Personal medications (if needed)
  • First aid manual
  • Flashlight with spare batteries
  • Face masks
  • Hand sanitisers
  • Emergency contact numbers

Legal and Ethical Considerations in Providing First Aid

  • Understanding Consent
    • It’s important to understand the concept of consent when providing first aid. If the person is conscious, you must get their permission before administering care.
  • Good Samaritan Laws in Australia
    • Australia’s Good Samaritan laws offer protection to those who assist in an emergency, acting in good faith and without recklessness.
  • Privacy and Confidentiality in First Aid Situations
    • Maintaining the injured person’s privacy and confidentiality is a key ethical consideration when administering first aid.

Getting Certified: First Aid Courses in Australia

Types of First Aid Certifications

There are various types of first aid certifications available, from basic to advanced levels, including:

  • HLTAID011 – Provide First Aid
  • HLTAID009 – Provide Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
  • HLTAID012 – Provide First Aid In An Education And Care Setting
  • HLTAID014 – Provide Advanced First Aid
  • HLTAID015 – Provide Advanced Resuscitation And Oxygen
  • HLTAID013 – Provide first aid in a remote or isolated site

Choosing the Right First Aid Course

Selecting the right course involves considering your needs and the specific situations you might encounter. It is also important to understand that in Australia, nationally recognised qualifications in first aid, can only be given by a nationally registered training organisation. First Aid Pro stands out as a quality provider of first aid training, offering nationally recognised training through comprehensive courses that are practical, informative, and suited to both individuals and organisations.

Get equipped to provide quality first aid response with registered training organisations such as First Aid Pro.


First aid knowledge is invaluable, not just for the individual but for society as a whole. It empowers us to act confidently and competently in emergencies, potentially saving lives. Remember, the basics of first aid are easy to learn, and advanced skills can be developed with training and practice. Taking a course with First Aid Pro can equip you with the skills and confidence needed to make a real difference.

Whether you’re looking to learn the basics or delve deeper into first aid knowledge, consider enrolling in a nationally recognised course at First Aid Pro. Training providers such as First Aid Pro is designed to impart practical skills and knowledge, ensuring you’re prepared to handle a wide range of first aid incidents and emergencies.

The content on this website offers general insights regarding health conditions and potential treatments. It is not intended as, and should not be construed as, medical advice. If you are facing a medical emergency, dial 000 immediately and follow the guidance provided.

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