GIMME SHELTER- Safety check: What's in your first aid kit?

Steven Hull

Q: The other day my wife cut her finger, and when I opened our First Aid Kit there were no band-aids! Now I want to better prepared for accidents and disasters. What kind of basic safety kit or device should I have at home?

A: Don't be too hard on yourself. I'd say about 80 percent of the little white first aid kits we replace in homes and businesses are close to empty! However, the first thing you should have is a little knowledge. Ideally, everyone should get some basic first aid training from the local Red Cross or an organization like Medic First Aid (, which will be doing training sessions in Charlottesville in June. 

Next, make sure there's a proper first aid kit in your home and car. The kit should have something to stop bleeding, like gauze or an inch-thick pile of napkins, and a couple of pair of gloves. As we say, "If it's wet and not yours, don't touch it."

Of course, the kit should also have assorted band-aids, a cold compress, and some kind of wound disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide or a povidone-iodine solution. If you're fortunate enough to know CPR, make sure you also have a CPR barrier to perform it on. And always have a flashlight that works. In your car, make sure you have tools, jumper cables, a cell phone charger, and a sturdy rope.

We also recommend carrying a small LED light and a whistle in your pocket or pocketbook at all times. A whistle not only sounds a warning if you're in trouble, but if you're trapped somewhere it can be a lifesaver. People can only scream for so long, whereas they can blow a whistle all day.

Your car and home should also have a fire extinguisher. And more importantly, you should know how to use it. Fire extinguishers should be used like mace– squirt it and run like crazy. You're not there to subdue your attacker, just to get away without getting hurt. 

A lot of people think fire extinguishers are like hand grenades– you pull the pin and it starts squirting. When it doesn't, people assume in a panic that it's dead and don't use it. Just remember the three Ps: pull the pin, point at the base of the fire, and press the lever. Typical fire extinguishers don't last long, so you'll need to use it correctly and quick. 

If a fire extinguisher has been sitting too long, the powder inside will turn solid. Simply shake it a few times a year to make sure it hasn't solidified. 

Also, install smoke detectors in your home and put batteries in them. No excuses. Every floor should have a detector. Ideally, every room should have one, as a fire can burn in a closed room for sometime before it's detected. 

In case of disaster, heed the warning of Katrina. Have at least a week's worth of food and water on hand. That means at least one gallon of water per person for each day, and enough basic food that you don't have to cook and that you actually like to eat. As one manufacturer of dehydrated foods told us, "I love running my business, but if I had to eat this food for a week I'd go crazy!"

Of course, there are more ways to be prepared for accidents and disasters, but having these basics covered is an excellent start.

Steven Hull