by Catten Ely
This is the second in a series of three articles devoted to First Aid tips specific to motorcyclists. MMM writer Catten Ely has been an EMT since 1997 and is certified as an ASMI lead instructor.
Last time I mentioned that the most likely injuries in a motorcycle crash involve blunt trauma, broken bones, dislocations, and head and spine damage. Even with the best intentions, an untrained person cannot only do more damage to a fallen rider; he might become an unwitting victim himself.
If you see a bike crash, slow down and be as visible as possible to other traffic. Drivers are notorious rubberneckers and we all know how well they see us when their eyes are on the road. If you brake suddenly or make an abrupt lane change, your risk of becoming a casualty skyrockets.
You’re going to be revved up; it’s normal. So take a few deep breaths before you approach the crash victim. Your calmness will not only reassure him, it will also establish that you are the person in control of the scene and people will be much more likely to follow your directions.
The #1 thing you must do when you arrive at a crash scene is MAKE SURE THE SCENE IS SAFE. Look for obvious hazards like downed power lines and fire. Send someone up the road to signal traffic to slow down. Look for liquid leaks — it’s more likely someone will slip on it than it catching fire. And be certain that you are well out of the path of traffic.
Identify the highest-trained person on the scene. If that’s not you, you can still do a lot to help: direct traffic, keep bystanders out of the way, or help with administering first aid.
When a cyclist goes down, he will usually be confused and scared. He may not know what’s happened. He will almost always want to know about his bike. This speech has worked well for me: “You’ve been in a crash. Help is on the way. We’ll take care of your bike. It’s important that you don’t try to move right now. My name is Cat and I’m an EMT. Can I help you?”
State laws vary, but it’s always a good idea to get consent before you touch someone. Unfortunately, in this litigious society you can’t be too careful.
Send someone to call 9-1-1 if it hasn’t been done yet. The dispatcher will want to know the victim’s location, that it was a motorcycle crash, and how many victims there are (most ambulances can only carry one patient). It’s smart to have EMS evaluate a crash victim, even if the victim says he’s fine. A crash at just 10 mph can cause significant head trauma that may not be apparent immediately. If a first aid kit is available, make sure it’s handy. (If it’s your kit, make sure you’re familiar with the contents before you actually need it.) If possible, send people to the nearest intersections to direct the ambulance.
At this point, your training will dictate what you do next. If you don’t have any training at all, sometimes all you can do is stay with the victim until help arrives.
DON’T move the victim, remove a helmet, start CPR, or apply a tourniquet unless you’ve been trained to do so. If you have sufficient training to perform bandaging, remember that EMS will want to assess the wounds you’ve so meticulously covered, so don’t be offended when they unceremoniously cut them off.
I encourage all riders to take a first aid class. First responder courses provide the essentials. If you’re ambitious, a wilderness first responder course includes ways to improvise. And the Road Guardians’ comprehensive “A Crash Course for the Motorcyclist” is designed especially for motorcyclists.