Car Emergency Kit 2.0
January 22, 2017 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Today I stopped to help a family who had suffered a really scary car accident due to a flash flood. My emergency car kit, which I'd been obsessing over for weeks just a few months ago, was woefully insufficient when it came to comforting the very cold, wet, and frightened children who thankfully survived the crash with no visible injuries. For my own peace of mind, can you help me assemble a better car kit that would help me help others more effectively while waiting for CHP/EMTs/etc?

The main thing I had to offer was lots of beach towels to keep the kiddos dry while we waited for help (which took forever to arrive due to the rain and flooding). I couldn't access the one poncho I had or those weird shiny blanket type things I picked up at Target ages ago, but those didn't seem to help anyway. Eventually some folks came along with a big truck and put the kiddos inside with the heater on and I am kicking myself for not thinking of that (but I had to pull off the freeway much further away than everyone else and their car was closer).

I still feel like I didn't do enough aside from giving the towels and repeatly checking in on the family so I could offer status reports on their wellbeing if asked (that's happened before when I've assisted people who are having seizures and other sudden maladies). What should be immediately accessible in my emergency kit now? Should I have separate kits, one for in the moment emergencies like a car accident, and one for "Hey there's been a natural disaster and I have been stranded or evacuated and I need the stuff in this kit to stay safe until I can get to safety"?

Like I get I am not a first responder or an ENT. The main thing I am good at is keeping people calm. I know that the first step is always to call 911 and then try to help (right??). But surely there are things I can do and have on hand from now on to help?

I am obsessing over this because when I started to help unload the fallen car I realized that the family had recently visited my store, and that I may have even helped them earlier in the day/week and to see those kids scared and unsafe really gutted me
posted by Hermione Granger to Human Relations (16 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
It's always a good idea to keep backup boots/hat/mittens/scarf in your vehicle if you live in a snowy climate. I also keep a fully stocked craftsman toolbox which seems like overkill but has come in handy in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Also, a sturdy shovel.

In addition to a first aid kit you could also get hot and cold packs that are activated by folding them in half to snap the inner core (like a glow stick).
posted by pintapicasso at 9:05 PM on January 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Why couldn't you access the shock blanket? Those are actually quite effective (though of course being damp is not helpful). The reusable ones are sturdier, so if you have disposables, I'd swap out for that one. You could also throw in some of those disposable hand or foot heatpacks to help with warming them up.

The other thing that might have been helpful in the moment is some chocolate or hard candies or something similar. The single best thing you can do to improve your decision-making in a crisis is sit down and eat something. Not joking. Comforting for the kids, calming for the adults.

But otherwise, I'm not sure what more you expected to be able to do in that situation? Car emergency kits are usually for (a) treating small injuries and supporting ones that require more advanced intervention and (b) helping you wait in reasonable comfort until the cavalry can arrive, particularly avoiding hypothermia. No one was injured, and you can't expect to stock dry clothes in every human size, so towels were probably the best you could offer. I know it was a scary situation, but it sounds like your help was actually as good as could be provided from a layperson stopping by!
posted by praemunire at 9:09 PM on January 22, 2017 [17 favorites]

I am by no means an expert nor am I myself prepared. I literally have building my car emergency kit on my to-do list right now. I am however an EMT/Firefighter/WFR so I have some some sense of what's important and what I want in mine.

- Basic first aid kit. With this you want to stick with what you're capable of using. Fancy equipment for advanced procedures won't do you any good if you're not trained to use it. In this you should be thinking of medical gloves, 4x4 gauze, band aids, neosporin, ace bandage wrap, etc. If there's any sort of bleeding you can do a lot of good by just giving them a few 4x4 gauze and having them hold direct pressure on it themselves.

- Small fire extinguisher. These can be had for cheap on Amazon. Ever since the police cruisers started carrying fire extinguishers we put out a lot less fires since the officers are able to put out small fires before they escalate. Proceed here with caution, as you definitely don't want to get yourself in over your head, but this can be super handy in a pinch.

- Jumper cables
- Recovery strap
- Flashlight or headlamp w/ extra batteries
- Road flares / signaling
- Lighter
- Umbrella / raincoat
- Mylar blankets. As you realized, getting someone out of the conditions is going to be the most effective way of warming them up. You can also throw an old sleeping bag in the car if you have extra space.
- Snacks + bottled water. Calories can go a long way towards getting someone warm and keeping spirits high.
- Basic toolkit + knife + duct tape + multitool
- Toilet paper / wet wipes / hand sanitizer

This should all be able to fit into a plastic tub. Not the most convenient to lug around but I would always prefer to err on the side of being prepared. Also keep a mental list of general things you'd find useful to have in your car and you can throw it in here.
posted by masters2010 at 9:22 PM on January 22, 2017 [14 favorites]

I keep jumper cables, two fleece blankets, two wool knit caps, one large towel, two small size towels, a jar of peanuts for some reason, a couple of bottles of water, an ice scraper, a disposable camera (in case of accident and my phone is either out of juice, smashed or lost, a few $3 plastic rain ponchos, and lots of bungee cords and tie down straps (I have a pickup). I also have a multitool, a straight edge razor and kitchen safety matches. I also keep a $20 bill stashed in my truck just in case I need it to buy emergency ice cream or whatever. And a basic first aid kit.
posted by AugustWest at 9:25 PM on January 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

I know that the first step is always to call 911 and then try to help (right??)

If it's only you: yes, call EMS. Don't try to help until after you've checked to see if it's safe to approach the accident (are there downed power lines?).

Stuff in my car: First Aid kit, water bottles, Little Hotties, granola bars, emergency blankets, flashlights and batteries, hand-powered radio, a beach towel, wipes, duct tape, a hammer / seatbelt cutter that I can reach from the driver's seat. Reflective triangles to set up in the road. Paracord. Pens. Paper. Pocket knife. Geocaching supplies (look, we all have our own definition of "emergency"). Many of those things can be used to distract the kids while waiting for the experts.

In the winter: add a sleeping bag, chains, a collapsable shovel, rain gear, gloves, hats.

A lot of that stuff would be there anyway, because I have kids, practice knots at red lights, hike, am a Girl Scout, etc. But I make sure it gets replaced -- we use Band Aids all the time, we go through the granola bars, and then I put in new ones.

I've given strangers water bottles more often than anything else I lug around, including once in a freaking hospital.

If you haven't already done this: have you considered getting certified in First Aid? It takes a day and is reassuring, and it sounds like you like to be useful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:25 PM on January 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

Following up on what The Corpse said, as it's the most important point of all -- be hyper cautious before approaching any sort of accident!!!

Motor vehicle accidents are extremely dangerous after the fact, especially with regards to traffic. I see so many people walking around willy nilly on the side of the highway after a minor accident -- this is a very easy way to die and many people do indeed die this way! Accidents will have broken glass, leaking fluids, very sharp metal, fire, etc. It's best not to even think about approaching a serious accident but rather instead just call 911 and provide the best information you can (exact location with direction of people, number of people you can see, number of vehicles, any sign of smoke, etc.). In a situation like this you're much more likely to get hurt yourself and further complicate the situation than to do any meaningful benefit. This also applies to other situations like flash floods. If it's not safe to get out of the car then you certainly should not get out of the car.

The recommendations I made in the previous post are more directed towards someone slid off the road into a ditch in a rural setting, someone runs out of gas, road closed and stuck in your car due to inclement weather, etc. The fire extinguisher is obviously on the outer realm of reasonable intervention and is more-so meant for your own vehicle.
posted by masters2010 at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Recently was stranded due to a dead car battery and the number one most important thing missing was portable cellphone chargers.
posted by bleep at 11:07 PM on January 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Be aware that every extra ounce of weight you carry entails a fuel usage cost. Carrying everything an EMT might need is not practical.

I too carry a fire extinguisher, emergency blankets, very bright flashlight, small first aid kit, portable battery charger/starter (starts car and charges phones), portable air compressor, electric flares, a small toolkit, water and energy bars, gloves, socks, and a heavy sweatshirt, a large umbrella, and a window-smasher/belt cutter.

The extinguisher and the smasher/cutter need to be within reach of the driver.

Make sure your stuff is *well* secured. A fire extinguisher or tool box makes a hell of a projectile if you're involved in an accident.
posted by spitbull at 2:45 AM on January 23, 2017

Also you should get an automotive fire extinguisher, not a household use one.

And a box of large heavy duty plastic trash bags. They are always useful.

Roll of paper towels.

And in winter a small but strong aluminum folding shovel.

All purpose utility knifee/multi touch.
posted by spitbull at 2:48 AM on January 23, 2017

Er, multi-tool.
posted by spitbull at 2:54 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a basic Kidde automotive fire extinguisher for $20.

May you never need it.

Meant to add jumper cables. No one carries them anymore. Even though I love my Anker portable battery charger, I still keep cables just in case.

And a 20' length of very strong rope.
posted by spitbull at 2:58 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

You need some woobies.
posted by Harald74 at 5:10 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might find my previous Ask helpful:
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:26 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

A lifestraw weighs an ounce, fits in a glovebox, costs $12, and might save your ass.

Also, duct tape.
posted by spitbull at 5:45 AM on January 23, 2017

Lighter. Extra button battery for key fob. Spare glasses. Barf bags. Alcohol wipes. Hand sanitizer. Vinyl gloves.
posted by spitbull at 5:51 AM on January 23, 2017

My home first aid kit always has some airplane-size bottles of whisky for traumatised adults and durable candy for traumatised children, and now I'm wondering why my car stash doesn't have those.
posted by kmennie at 2:00 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

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