Here I come to save the day
March 14, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to become more useful in emergencies. What activities will help me reach my goal?

I'm not the kind of guy that people turn to in "emergencies" (medical or otherwise), and I feel bad about that. I'd like to make myself more useful. I'm already planning on doing CPR classes, and I'm working out seriously. What are some other classes/activities I can add to my list?
posted by mpls2 to Education (25 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Take some industrial first aid courses.
Then you'll know what to do if someone loses their hand or gets a nail stuck in their eye.
posted by Iax at 5:08 PM on March 14, 2009

First aid and lifesaving. Then you can become an instructor in CPR, first aid and lifesaving. Learn the Heimlich maneuver.
posted by jgirl at 5:08 PM on March 14, 2009

My suspicion is that a big thing people look for in an emergency is someone who keeps a clear head and operates calmly and smartly even though the world is falling down around them.

It sounds like a dumb suggestion, but I found that getting really into fast-paced multiplayer video games can help train you to keep a clear head under stress.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:10 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: harlequin - funny, I'd actually noticed that myself when playing TF2
posted by mpls2 at 5:17 PM on March 14, 2009

This sounds less about skill (which to some extent depends on the type of emergencies you think yo're likely to be involved in) and more about psychology.

If you've ever seen an accident you know that there will be one or two people actually doing something and half-a-dozen people sort of kibitzing hoping to be of help but having no clue what will be useful. Apparently, it's very efective to have someone who is comfortable just telling people to do something -- and you have to pick someone to give them a specific task, otherwise it's less likely to work. "You! In the trucker hat! Call 911!" "Go watch for traffic until we can get him off the highway." "Get your tire iron or jack so we can break the window."

Really, I'd like to feel more useful too, but it's really all about becoming a master of a domain of knowledge. Survival skills can be useful in emergencies sometimes. Knowing about basic first aid is very much the main thing, but just thinking in problem-solving terms is important no matter what you're dealing with. So work out what you're likely to need. Tornados and hurricanes might be one set of skills, earthquakes another, and floods yet one more.

I really think emergencies are less about being a hero and more about stepping up with what you can offer. At the same time, a rescuer with a little knowledge can get themselves or others in trouble in the process. (Legion examples: people who dive into floodwaters or out onto thin ice to save someone, or who follow others into a suffocation situation. Good samaritans who injure someone by moving them prematurely or unnecessarily.) So to know what NOT to do is important too, not just acting.
posted by dhartung at 5:19 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Heimlich.
Apparently when Tom Colicchio saved Joan Nathan, there was a roomful of chefs who didn't know how to do it.
posted by Airhen at 5:26 PM on March 14, 2009

I'm not the kind of guy that people turn to in "emergencies" (medical or otherwise), and I feel bad about that. I'd like to make myself more useful.

One of the cool things about this board is that it teaches you how weird everyone else is too (it wouldn't occur to me to feel bad about this) and expands your own weirdness (now I too, feel bad).

Your problem has two components -- first, whether people will turn to you, and second, whether turning to you is likely to be fruitful. The second contributes to the first, but doesn't resolve it. Taking CPR is helpful in terms of skill-building; so is watching MacGyver.

Part of the problem, though, also seems to be that people aren't for whatever reason inclined to turn to you, and might not be until you rescue a few lives. Some possible ways you might improve your capabilities have little external evidentiary value, or might even backfire (e.g., being known as the guy who spends his time playing multiplayer video games).

One way to invest in this effort in a way that has public payoff would be to serve in a volunteer capacity at a local fire department, search and rescue unit, or the like. Of course, you could also tell tall tales about the heroic rescues you performed, or carry a doctor's bag with you everywhere, but I assume you are focused on the more genuine.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:29 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your local Red Cross society might also offer some sort of emergency/crisis training.

And if you want to learn about keeping your head, you might try volunteering for a local crisis hotline, if one exists. The training on crisis intervention and listening will help you focus on others' needs while all is falling apart around you.
posted by Gorgik at 5:33 PM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: *Carry jumper cables, flares, basic tools, and an excellent first aid kid in your vehicle
*Keep your cell charged and program in both emergency and useful non-emergency numbers (like the number to city services and local human services resources--as well as local charity/church free services that may offer health care or meals).
*Take a public speaking course. In the first-responder/health-care provider first-aid class I recently needed took as part of my post-bacc (to go into a NP program) we learned over and over that the most helpful person in an emergency situation is the one who comfortably steps up in front of large and small crowds of people and starts giving clear direction and information. Good public speakers do better here.
*Volunteer at a mission, healthcare facility, Boys and Girls Club, or human services center where you're exposed to (sometimes) more controlled higher stress situations and can learn how to do what you're told or need to do when.
*Take a first-aid course where you learn to use an Automatic Defibrillator. Lots of businesses and entertainment outlets have these now--but no one on staff feels comfortable using one or knows how to. Remember if you are in an emergency situation where someone has collapsed, been injured or seems to be having a cardiac event to yell for one or send someone to find one. These machines shouldn't intimidate--they are programmed not to shock a heart in normal rhythm.
*Participate in citizen ride-alongs with the local police and interview them about what is helpful for citizens to do and not do in an emergency.
*Learn to be a strong swimmer and great driver of different kinds of vehicles.
*Start keeping a daily journal to hone your powers of expressive observation, or start a photo journal.
*Carry a camera even if you don't keep a photo journal.
*Keep doing whatever you're doing that maintains and enhances your compassion for humanity and your impulse to help them.
posted by rumposinc at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2009 [21 favorites]

In the few actual emergencies I've been involved in, by far the most helpful ability was to remain calm and give instructions to other people in a loud, clear, authoritative voice while making strong eye contact. You have to immediately assess who in in charge; if no one is, then that means you are.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:04 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I just want to clarify--by "emergency", I mean "stressful situation"... could be money problems, work problems, relationship problems, friends' problems, etc.
posted by mpls2 at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2009

Do you know how to drive stick? You should!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:15 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Given your followup post, I'd say you're asking for something that isn't gained nearly as easily as skills like CPR and basic first aid. What you're looking for is even harder than public speaking. You're really looking for two things.

The first is how to be cool under fire, metaphorically speaking (though literally wouldn't hurt). I don't think this is something that is easily taught. At least not in any way that you can kind of pick up on the side in a couple of evenings a month. Grace under pressure is something you can only pick up by being under pressure on a regular basis. This is part of what boot camp is supposed to teach soldiers, clinical rotations are supposed to teach nurses, rounds are supposed to teach medical residents, and trial advocacy courses are supposed to teach lawyers. They're intense. They're time-consuming. They're frequently quite expensive. And they aren't hobbies.

Most people aren't routinely exposed to this kind of acute, situational stress very frequently. Sure, everyone's got long-term money/relationship/family/health problems, and these can be quite stressful, but constantly making snap judgments on situations that develop in seconds? That's really something, that the people who have that something are the kind of people that others will naturally follow.

But even having that isn't good to anyone if no one trusts you to be That Guy in a crisis. So the second thing you want is for people to trust you. Being good at the first part helps a bit, but they don't always go hand in hand. Some of the most unflappable people I know I don't trust any farther than I can throw 'em. I don't know many people I'd trust that don't do well under pressure, but I can see how that could be. Cultivating trust in people is a subtle and mysterious thing. Some people can do it as easily as breathing. Some of those people are sociopaths, oddly enough. Other people just naturally give off signals that make people uneasy. Some of these are really great people once you get to know them, they're just really awkward.

Ultimately, I think that this kind of trust grows out of solid relationships. People trust others they feel safe around, and they feel safe around people they know well. Usually anyways. None of this is set in stone. But in general, aren't most of the people you trust to be there for you when the shit hits the fan people you've known for a while? People you've spent a lot of time around?

Sometimes a good way to be the guy people turn to is by giving people the opportunity to do that. Say you're around a friend who seems to be having a rough time of it. Offer a shoulder to cry on/a steady hand/a clear head/an extra $20/whatever seems to be appropriate. You'd be surprised how many people will accept that kind of assistance who lack the courage to ask for it themselves, or somehow never thought of you as being able to help them until you offered.

I'm not sure how helpful any of that is, but I hope it's at least interesting.
posted by valkyryn at 6:28 PM on March 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, valkyryn. I just want to acquire skills and knowledge that can help others in their time of need. I understand that actually getting people to come to me for help is another problems.
posted by mpls2 at 6:37 PM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: i have some of the skills you're looking for, and often i'm able to take charge of situations. i used to do crisis intervention counseling in various situations, as well as had high stress positions in other areas. i don't do much now other then be an election judge.

you need to be knowledgable about the situation you're dealing with. studying whatever materials you can get helps a lot, especially rule books, guides and instruction manuals. in addition, general informational books, magazines and web sites that cover a wide range of topics are good. (askme, btw is a great example of this). narratives of people going through stressful situations are also really good. studs terkel's work is also really good for this.

learn a variety of skills. first aid, etc are great, but not used much. operating vehicles is a better one--don't forget boats. knowing how to light a fire is really good, as is tracking, and moving without being seen and other thievery skills are useful. it can also be seemingly stupid things--an example is learning how to juggle. it seems pretty useless, but i have relieved stress a few times in office situations by picking up random items and juggling them. the public speaking cited above is also a really good idea.

learn to anticipate. watch things, and think "what's going to happen next", and then act on your plan. in longer term situations, develop a contingency plan. anticpate problems, and have a predetermined course of action.

listen to others. often people don't get the big picture, but they do clearly see some important detail. learn to listen to people patiently, and how to seperate their emotions from the facts. if you don't know something, ask. you don't always need the right answer, sometimes guiding is all you need to do.

reamin calm and in control. work at acting confident. speak clearly, without a not of excess words, and with authority.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:07 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you've got the time, money and interest then taking an Outward Bound or NOLS course might be helpful. A lot of what you're looking for will be covered - from the practical skills of first aid (depending upon the course, of course) to leadership. My Outward Bound course changed how I view everyday situations and was one of the reasons I became an Emergency Medical Technician.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:12 PM on March 14, 2009

People turn to me all the time. I am smiling as I say "Get a pickup".
posted by reflecked at 7:25 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could learn some martial arts. And learn about guns and maybe get a concealed carry permit.
posted by low affect at 8:12 PM on March 14, 2009

If you are in the US and your area has one - Community Emergency Repsonse Team
posted by milkrate at 11:37 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I'm reading this, and going "wow...guns, video games, driving stick? WOW METAFILTER"

Here's my suggestions:

1. Be prepared. Don't be the dude with a car who doesn't have the necessary items to jumpstart a car, or change a tire. The car is just an example. Apply this to other facets of your life.

2. Can you keep calm and not fly off the handle in a NEW and stressful situation?

3. I think its great that you want people to turn to you during emergencies. What would be better is if you didn't wait till someone said "help", and jumped in. I might have taken the OP's initial post literally, but I do mean it. If you see something happening and people standing still or just staring at something, step in. Its a really freaky phenomenon for a short period of time. Wierd stuff is happening and everyone is looking and not acting.

4. Don't try to be the hero. I think its great that you want to be useful in these situations, but I hope you're not doing it to be looked at as a hero. There might be a situation in which you will be able to do something...but someone nearby may have better training (like a doctor, a mechanic, fireman, off-duty cop, ninja, etc.)

I think its great that you want to be more helpful rather than a startled bystander. Just know (which I'm sure you do) that your focus is on making sure the situation doesn't get worse till the real help arrives, rather than actually fixing the situation.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:39 AM on March 15, 2009

Best answer: If you are going to pursue first aid as a way to help, try and find a way to expose yourself to some gore. It helps a lot if you can see injuries in stages before you have to see someone run over by a tractor trailer. I think it also would lesson your own trauma later on if you were not seeing it for the first time. Some day the helpful leader might end up just being the only one who isn't throwing up.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:39 AM on March 15, 2009

Amateur radio.
posted by ae4rv at 6:22 AM on March 15, 2009

Learn to assess the needs of a situation quickly. Organize the people around you. Be decisive. If you do these things, you will find that you naturally take charge of a situation.

In my experience, there are 3 types of people in an emergency:
1. People who know what to do and do it
2. People who don't know what to do, but want to help
3. People who run around like crackheads and make the situation worse

Be one of the people in the first group. Tell the people in the second group specifically how they can help. Use the people in the second group to control the people in the third group.

Don't panic.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:38 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The community response team training is pretty cool. I took Oakland's and it started out really boring and not very relevant to me as an apartment dweller, but in the 2nd and 3rd tiers it got into how to organize the community, organize search and recovery teams, set up food and temp shelter, latrines and "morgue", how to mark searched buildings so that the pros know what's been done and what hasn't. Basic first aid with the assumption that it would be a day or two before help got there. They didn't teach CPR. It was really interesting.

I live in earthquake country so it seems likely I'll actually use it someday. It would have been nice to have it after the '89 and '94 quakes. In safer areas of the country (are there such places?) they may not have these same programs.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:07 AM on March 15, 2009

It sounds like you're asking less about being the one people turn to during "emergencies" than you are being the one people turn to during "problems." The only way to be the one people turn to when they have a problem is to just be there, and be trustworthy, and let it come. Listen to them when they're whining about the little stuff and they'll start trusting you with bigger problems.

When it comes to emergencies, though, not everyone will turn to you for help -- it's not like you see someone choking and eveyrone stands there, and suddenly someone looks across the crowd at you and says, "ha! You look useful!" Usually, in an emergency, it's everyone standing around looking at the person in crisis, and everyone else is paralyzed with fear trying to remember "holy shit what should I do now?"

Possibly someone may snap out of it and actually start doing something, and once they start, offer that person your assistance -- because they may be too busy/panicked/concentrating too hard to be idly selecting people themselves -- or stay clear. If no one else snaps out of it, as Optimus said, just jump in yourself, if you know something you can do.

Case in point: this wasn't a life-or-death situation, but a pretty serious mishap came up during a show I was stage managing. It was the second-to-last rehearsal, and we had the light designer, sound designer, costume designer, etc. in rehearsal with us, along with a team of photographers taking pictures of the rehearsal for the official show publicity. I was crammed up in the light booth, a crawl space only accessible via a ladder over the dressing room and which had a window overlooking the stage. In the show, one character tries to stab another, and a third character disarms him by grabbing the knife out of his hand. However, I noticed -- shortly after that scene -- that the actor playing the third character was bleeding rather a bit from his hand. A couple of the other people onstage had noticed, and were starting to look concerned.

Technically, all I really did in that moment was make the executive decision to stop the rehearsal, and then drop my first aid kit through the window down to someone else so they could get the bandaids to the actor quicker while I was still struggling down from the loft. But the mere fact that I did that -- the mere fact that I took control of the situation by hollering, "STOP! Don, head backstage and take care of that -- Andy, catch, here's my first aid kit, I'll be down in a second" -- had a profound effect on the situation, by snapping everyone out of the "oh no this isn't what's supposed to happen what do we do now" mindset and getting them into the "oh, yes, this is a first aid situation we should take care of this" mindset. One of the photographers jumped up and said he'd taken a first aid course, could he help, and I happily sent him backstage and kept everyone else out of his way instead.

Sometimes it's not about being the one people turn to, it is about being the one that steps into the middle and turning people to the task at hand.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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