Camping & Outdoor Safety for Families

Emergencies Happen. Be Prepared. 

About 23 years ago, long before my two boys and amazing wife were in my life, I was living it up with my friends. We spent all of our free time outdoors – snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, camping and traveling to beautiful remote surfing destinations.

One day, it occurred to me that if something went wrong on one of our adventures and someone needed medical attention, what help would I be able to provide? A lot of my friends had medical training but what if it was me that they relied on? Soon after, I signed up for an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class. It wasn’t only the right decision but it became one of the best decisions of my life. I was thrilled to learn how to take care of people and learn how the human body works. 

Fast forward a few years, I am now a paramedic and the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Manager for REMSA – a high-performance, emergency medical services agency in our region. My job is to make sure REMSA delivers high-quality, compassionate and timely care through our ground ambulance program. My passion is to ensure that parents, families, coaches, teachers and those with the passion of outdoors like me, are prepared for an emergency – whether it’s in the backcountry or the backyard.

How to Prepare for a Camping Trip

Summertime is an ideal time to explore our region. As you prep your tent or travel trailer, remember these foundational safety tips:

  • Bring emergency supplies including a first aid kit, map, compass, waterproof fire starter, whistle, an extra flashlight, high-energy food, water, insect repellant and warm clothing. 
  • Stay updated with the weather reports and plan accordingly. I always pack at least an extra layer of clothing from what I expect to need. 
  • Plan to arrive early to survey the area and pitch your tent. There’s nothing worse than pitching a tent at dark.
  • Ensure you build your fire in a safe area – away from the tent and any trip hazards. Have a plan ready in case the fire spreads – keep water and a shovel nearby.  
  • Keep wildlife away by keeping your campsite clean and cooking away from your tent. Do not leave food, garbage, coolers, cooking equipment or cosmetic items out in the open. Store it all in the bear lockers, available at most area campgrounds.
  • Share your travel plans with someone – let them know where your group is going and when you plan to return.
  • Charge your cell phone prior to leaving on your trip and update the settings on your phone to save battery life.
  • Bring enough (and a few extra days worth) prescription medication in the original marked bottles. 

Prepare for All Types of Emergencies

Things happen when we least expect it. You should always have a first aid kit handy! I’m a paramedic and my wife is a nurse practitioner and our children routinely get scrapes and bumps. Store the kit in a place where everyone knows where to find it (car, trailer, boat, etc.).

Stock your first aid kit with the basics including dressings (which go on top of the wound) and bandages (which go on top of the dressing to secure it) of varying sizes, cold compresses, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, CPR face shield, aspirin, ibuprofen, Benadryl, antiseptic wipes, trauma shears, vinyl gloves and any prescription medication that could be required in an emergency such as nitroglycerin or an EpiPen. The American Red Cross offers a wide variety of kits – a comprehensive kit for the family or a small one that everyone can toss in their own backpack. Remember to check your kit each season to ensure products haven’t expired.

When do you know when an emergency is big and requires a call to 9-1-1? It’s actually pretty simple. If you look at the injury and say, “Oh, s%*t!” it’s most likely a big emergency and requires immediate attention. Unconsciousness, uncontrolled bleeding and broken bones are serious problems. 

Here are some ways to prepare and respond to emergencies.

  • Call 9-1-1 or send someone to call 9-1-1
  • Remember the ABCs of treating emergencies:
    • Airway – Is the airway clear? 
    • Breathing – Is the person breathing? If not, begin giving rescue breaths.
    • Circulation – Are there signs of circulation (like a pulse)? If not, begin chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute.
  • Attempt to stop major bleeding 
  • If you have “Oh, s%*t!” bleeding, pack the wound with gauze or apply a tourniquet. When in doubt, apply a tourniquet and let medical professionals determine if it is needed.
  • For a broken bone, have the person or someone else support the injury with their hand or with a cushion; splinting the injury to limit mobility is also a possibility, but do not move it excessively. Splint above and below the injury site to help reduce pain.

You may be reading this and thinking, “I’m not an EMT! I can’t pack a wound.” You’re wrong – you can, especially if it’s a child that’s injured. You’d be amazed at what you can do if you have the knowledge and the right equipment. 

You may also be thinking, “Tourniquets? You can lose a limb from using a tourniquet.” Let me debunk that myth. It’s true, years ago, applying tourniquets was discouraged in the prehospital setting. However, based on evidence of improved trauma care on the battlefield, applying tourniquets to control serious bleeding is now an accepted national standard of care.

It is my strong advice to supplement your first aid kit with a tourniquet or two. I recommend a SWAT-T that can be used on people of all sizes (including small children) and a Combat Application Tourniquet or a tactical tourniquet that can be easily self-applied.  

Finally, a SAM Splint is a must. It’s reusable, light and offers incredible versatility and functionality for a patient of any size and on a variety of injuries. You can find video tutorials about how to maximize its usefulness.

Always Be Prepared

I’m a believer in the famous saying, “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.” If it’s your son or daughter in need of help, responding with just emotions won’t be enough. So, ensure you have the right stuff for a memorable camping trip, but consider expanding what you bring along to include emergency preparedness knowledge with a training course such as CPR and First Aid, Bleeding Control or an Emergency Medical Technician certification – all of which REMSA offers.

Have a safe and memorable summer!


Article contributed by Todd Kerfoot, EMS Manager for REMSA

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