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Turn a new calendar leaf and check those first aid kits

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It’s that time of year again: Time to buy a new calendar, make new year’s resolutions and go through the first aid medical kit.

Begin the latter by gathering all medical equipment, first aid kits, oxygen and AED – Automated External Defibrillator in one place. This includes any small kits on the tender, in the galley and in the engine room. Try to rally as many crew members for this as well, as it is a great time to get to know the kits.

Check everything for missing or expired items, opened packages or things that look out of place. If you are not sure what something is, ask. If nobody knows what it does, you may not need it.

Let’s start with the simple things, such as medical exam gloves, eye protection (safety goggles) and CPR mask. Gloves have a shelf life and should be replaced annually. They are inexpensive, about $6 for a box of 50 so when in doubt, throw them out.

Does the eye protection look worn, dirty or discolored? If so, replace it.

Same with the CPR mask. Does it look cracked, dirty, discolored or melted? If so, replace it. Again, this is an inexpensive item, about $20.

Next, look at each medication. Is it current? What is it used for? If anything is expired, order replacements and dispose of the old medication properly. Unsure what the medication is prescribed for? Check the manual or USB drive that came with the kit. If you can’t find them, e-mail me I will try to help.

Having an organized medical kit and quality first aid training helps make sense of the kit so first responders know what medications are available, how to use them, and where they are located in the kit, saving valuable time in an emergency.

And having at least one AED onboard is essential. Without one, the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital are small, less than 5 percent. However, if the AED is applied quickly, the victim’s odds increase to about 70-90 percent. Many yacht I work with have two: one on the main ship and another on the tender. Often, the tender is the closest to the medical emergency.

If an AED is part of the yacht’s medical supplies, the new year is a great time to inspect it. Most manufacturers recommend a monthly inspection, but at a minimum, create a logbook or use a tag to track inspections. If you are not comfortable performing the inspection, e-mail me. I can walk you through it.

AEDs have two major parts that must be replaced periodically – the electrode pads and the battery. Most electrode pads have a two-year life and the expiration dates should be clearly marked. The battery has a life span from 2-5 years. Write the installation date on the battery or on a sticker on the back of the AED as a reminder. Don’t wait until the AED is beeping its low battery warning.

Carry a spare set of electrode pads as well as pediatric electrodes if children are ever onboard. Check to make sure the AED has been updated to the new American Heart Association guidelines.

Perhaps most importantly, check to see if your AED has been recalled or requires a software update. Several companies have issued recalls and yours may require service. If you are unsure, check with the manufacturer or e-mail me the make, model and serial number and I will check for you.

How old is the AED? Often there is a manufacture date on the back. If it is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it. Many trade in AEDs every eight years. Remember, this is a life saving medical device. Is your cell phone eight years old? our computer?  

Next, look at your medical oxygen. Is the tank full? When was the last time the tank itself was inspected? These tanks generally require hydro testing every five years and should only be filled with “medical” oxygen, which is highly filtered. Turn it on to make sure the regulator and tank function properly.

What about the oxygen masks, nasal cannulas and tubing? Do you have both adult and pediatric masks? Are these in good condition? If they look old, worn or yellow, it’s time to replace them.

Practice and learn all about oxygen equipment when there is time, not during an emergency. Ask one of the crew to apply the mask to another crew and see if they know how to work the equipment. And if using the oxygen for training, be certain to re-fill it immediately.

Training for emergencies is crucial. Onboard training puts medical emergencies in specific locations that might present challenges. For example, someone is knocked unconscious in the bilge. How and where should we treat them? A crew member goes into cardiac arrest in the crew quarters. Is there enough room to perform CPR or do we move them?

Be proactive. Asking questions is a good thing and being prepared for emergencies is the key to saving lives. Have a safe and happy new year.

Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. Contact him through www.TheCPRSchool.com.

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