By Peter Burlingame
While the shooting sports are quite safe, accidents still happen. Gun owners as a group like to be prepared for all situations; the gun culture is itself steeped in self reliance. So it makes total sense to have a first aid kit as part of your shooting kit. This kit will enable you to deal with anything from a minor boo-boo, to patching a serious injury long enough to get to the hospital.
First Aid kits, Self Aid kits, IFAKs, Blow Out kits, Perforated Operator kits – whatever you call them – these kits are a small group of specialized items that are easy to keep on your belt or in your range bag. There are a wide variety of them on the market, from the basic, inexpensive ones you can get in the health and beauty section of the big box department stores, to purpose built units designed for shooters and soldiers. Prices can range from a few bucks to several hundred dollars. I prefer to start with a low to mid priced, purpose built kit and add to it, tailoring it to my training and conditions.
What goes in a First Aid kit designed for the range? The first thing you should be able to get your hands on is gloves, either latex or nitrile. If there is the possibility of coming in contact with anyone’s bodily fluids other than your own, you need to avoid contaminating either yourself or that person.
The next thing your first aid kit should contain are items for treating minor injuries, such as small cuts, scrapes, abrasions. I want to be able to clean, treat, and close these injuries. Alcohol wipes and antiseptic spray are what I keep in my kit. Small 3oz. bottles of saline solution like those used by contact wearers are another good choice. Neosporin is in all of my kits. I live in the tropics and the slightest scratch can get infected. Various size band aids and white medical tape round out this section of the kit.
The most common injuries will be minor ones, blisters and abrasions and small cuts. Guns are dirty and ranges are dirty. Clean any areas where the skin is broken, apply a triple antibiotic ointment, and a band aid or some tape and you are back to your training session.
Very often shooters with smaller, softer hands will benefit from some strategically placed first aid tape. Do this before the blisters and sore spots happen. After the first magazine or two, check the person’s hands for any red places and ask if anything is tender. Tape as necessary. Something as simple as this will help prevent the shooter from developing a flinch and they will be more likely to want to go shooting again.
Heat injuries are the next most likely occurrence on the range. Prevention is the key. I keep plenty of drinks on hand, and in addition, some salty snacks. A small bag of chips or pretzels will help keep your electrolytes up, help your body hang on to what fluids you do drink, and make you thirsty so you drink more. There are an assortment of re-hydration products on the market. Small packages of electrolytes that can be mixed with water should go in your kit. Use them as soon as someone starts showing signs of heat injury.
At the other end of the seriousness scale, and while extremely rare, a gunshot wound is a possibility. You will probably never have to deal with one. But if you do, you will only have seconds to act.
An assistant instructor working for a good friend of mine, recently shot themselves in the leg while holstering their pistol. The bullet entered the thigh and perforated the femoral artery. Death can occur in as little as three to four minutes with this type of wound. Because my friend and the rest of his staff were prepared with the proper equipment and training, in less than a minute a tourniquet and dressing were applied, giving the patient time to make it to the hospital.
Based on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, first aid/self aid gear and techniques for severe trauma have made great strides. Easy to carry and use tourniquets, clotting agents, and battle dressing are now widely available to everyone. There is no reason for anyone to die from a severe injury to an extremity these days.
Gunshot wounds, bad cuts, and deep punctures need to be treated quickly before they become life threatening. A CAT (combat application tourniquet) or SOFT-T tourniquet, Israeli Battle Dressing, and Quick Clot will quickly control even the most severe arterial bleeding, stabilizing the patient until they can get proper care. These 3 items are the minimum you should have in your range first aid kit. They can often be found together in the many ‘blow out’ kits you can find all over on the internet.
There are some medicines that your kit should contain, such as aspirin and/or ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Aspirin can cause stomach upset, and both aspirin and Ibuprofen are blood thinners. Good if you are treating a stroke or heart attack, bad if you are dealing with a bleeding wound. Tylenol doesn’t thin the blood, but can cause death in very large doses, and in regular doses, many people don’t get much pain relief from it. I use Ibuprofen for minor aches and pains, and a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen for moderate pain. These are also effective at reducing fevers.
Benadryl is good to have on hand for allergic reactions, whether from a plant or insect. Be aware that it can make you drowsy so continuing your shooting session is probably not advised.
Now that you’ve gathered up all the pieces, you need something to hold them. For smaller kits there are any number of purpose built pouches on the market made for carrying first aid gear on the belt on in a pocket. Fisherman’s’ tackle boxes are great for larger kits. The various spaces help to organize your supplies. Whatever you use it should be weather resistant to protect the contents and needs to be easily identifiable as a first aid kit. A large red cross is something everyone recognizes.
Once you have your kit put together everyone with you needs to know what it looks like, where it is kept, and what is in it. I do this at the beginning of every shooting session. One, so everyone knows what the kit looks like and where it is kept, and two, to reinforce the safety mindset. None of us wants to have to use that kit. Additionally, develop an evacuation plan: what vehicle will be used, who will be driving, who will call 911, whether there is a landing spot for a helicopter if a ‘life flight’ is available in your area and how to give directions to it.
By now you should have figured out that I’m real big on training. Owning a first aid kit doesn’t make you an EMT. I highly recommend taking at least the basic Red Cross first aid class that is widely available and inexpensive. There are also a number of ‘tactical medicine’ classes available around the country.
Just as with owning and training with a gun for personal protection, the first aid kit is something I hope you never need. The fact that you are prepared actually reduces your chances of needing first response equipment, but if the worst happens, you are ready.
Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org Videos at Youtube.com/vigunfighter.com