If you would naturally stop to help if you came across a crashed vehicle, then read on.
Previewed at 2013 CV Show and launched last summer, the not for profit ‘Driver First Assist’ (DFA) scheme has been busy training, registering and equipping its vanguard.
There are over 35 million road users in the UK and the roads network is arguably the UK’s largest work place. And like in every place of work, accidents happen, but until now – unlike factories and offices – there has not been a formal mechanism for providing and training first aiders to give immediate assistance at the roadside, prior to the arrival of the emergency services.
The Driver First Assist scheme aims to train frequent road users to provide life saving first aid and manage the scene at a road traffic collision (RTC), prior to the arrival of the emergency services. It is primarily aimed at professional commercial vehicle drivers but it also includes anyone who earns their living behind the wheel, or publically spirited motorists who feel they would benefit from the knowledge the training imparts.
The scheme has the full backing of the police, fire and ambulance services and the Traffic Commissioners. The training consists of one seven-hour course and is delivered by serving emergency services trainers, all of whom perform front line duties when not in the classroom. For in-scope commercial vehicle drivers the course counts towards the Driver CPC periodic training requirement.
We have expressed reservations about the scheme in the past. Primarily we have questioned whether giving all comers a badge and some basic knowledge, is enough to then trust and expect them to react accordingly should they be the first on the scene at a serious RTC? We were invited to attend the course to see for ourselves, what the scheme is really all about.
The course venue was the South East Ambulance Service HQ in Banstead in Surrey and the content was delivered by PC Steve Rounds from the Central Motorways Police Group and Dave Evans of the Ambulance Service. PC Rounds was quick to clarify that attendance on the course should be voluntary and while it counted towards Driver CPC periodic training, individuals attending with a view to becoming a DFA should do this because they want to. He said: “What we are really about is giving publically spirited drivers, who would stop to help at the scene of an RTC anyway, enough knowledge to firstly keep themselves safe, to save life and to give timely and accurate information to the emergency services. Included in this is guidance on how to manage the scene until the emergency services arrive.”
Both trainers openly admitted that due to distance or congestion, it often takes 15 minutes, or more, for police, fire or ambulance to get to crash scenes. While the UK has one of the best road safety records in the world, an average of five people per day die on our roads and 55% of fatalities occur before the emergency services arrive. The principle cause of death is from cardiac arrest (the heart stops). Cardiac arrest occurs for various reasons but without intervention, death will occur within four minutes. Interestingly, PC Rounds said that drivers falling into unconsciousness at the wheel causes over 50% of RTCs. The police refer to it as death at the wheel.
To address these issues, and more, the DFA scheme aims to give participants the basic skills to save life. In terms of cardiac arrest this involves establishing that the casualty is non-breathing and unconscious and then delivering hands only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
But before any first aid training is delivered the course covers determining if it is safe to stop to assist in the first place, and communicating information to the emergency services via 999, 112 or motorway telephones. Conducting a dynamic risk assessment is the recommended procedure to cover this step. Once the DFA establishes they can help and it is safe to do so, the course covers how to approach the scene; how to position their, and other motorist’s vehicles on various road types to protect the accident scene; establishing the location of the RTC; assessing the scene and what the emergency services need to know and making the call. This is put across in a very common sense way, with the emphasis always on the personal safety of the DFA. PC Rounds repeatedly said that there was no compunction to assist if by doing so it would put the DFA in danger. He used the example of an RTC where a tanker was involved and was leaking harmful chemicals onto the road. He said: “You must ask yourself whether your presence at the scene is a positive benefit or an unacceptable risk. If you think keeping well back, calling the emergency services and preventing other members of the public from approaching the vehicle, is the best and safest course of action, that is what you should do.”
The course also covers collision scene dangers. In addition to the danger of further vehicle collisions, displaced vehicle occupants, moving traffic and hazardous cargo is also covered. DFAs must ask lorry drivers if they are carrying anything hazardous and include this information when calling the emergency services. The meanings of UK hazardous cargo warning panels and placards were explained so a DFA can relay this information, or act upon it themselves, for personal safety reasons or if an evacuation is required.
The two main causes of death in any situation are: you stop breathing or you bleed out. Shock can also be fatal. These are the three main subjects covered by the first aid element of the course. Instructor Dave Evans from the South East Ambulance Service again emphasised the importance of self-preservation, even when attempting to save another’s life. He said: “The first rule is to ensure you are not putting yourself in danger. You should approach vehicles with caution, ensure you have an escape route, avoid contamination from liquids and be aware of unstable loads. You should only enter a vehicle involved in an RTC to save life.”
The first aid element lasts for three hours and following theory and tuition we were expected to demonstrate assessing a casualty; administering hands only CPR; placing a casualty in the recovery position and bandaging a wound to stop bleeding.
The fact the first aid training is delivered by front line paramedics means they impart exactly the right level of information and in a way that makes the prospect of dealing with an unconscious non breathing casualty easier to contemplate.
In addition the first aid syllabus touched on spinal injuries. We were taught to establish if there was suspicion of a neck, back or spinal injury and were shown how to limit further injury to the casualty – both in and out of a vehicle – by immobilising and supporting the head, using our hands, until medical help arrives.
The course lasts for seven hours to comply with the requirements of the Driver CPC. Delegates are assessed on the practical exercises and there is a test at the end. These to elements are required by the emergency services to pass delegates out as DFAs, but have no bearing on the Driver CPC periodic training requirement of attendance only.
There is no compulsion to become a DFA following the course, but delegates that wish to do so receive an invitation. A fee of £25 covers the cost of providing the DFA Toolkit. The kit comprises a BS approved long sleeve hi-viz lightweight jacket with DFA logo, a first aid kit, an ID card, indemnity insurance, a key ring and window sticker. Membership with DFA lasts for a period of three years, following which, members need to update their skills by attending a refresher course. This ensures skills and knowledge remain consistent with emergency services operational best practice.
The pre-requisites for attending this course, in terms of personal attributes, for potential DFAs are a reasonable level of intelligence, a can do attitude and common sense. Prior experience of managing stressful situations would be beneficial, but is not essential. Until faced with a real situation no one can be sure how they will cope and we got the impression from the course that DFA and the emergency services want DFAs do what they feel comfortable and safe with and certainly don’t want people to be heroes.
We felt the course and its content was excellent and was pitched at just the right level. The course costs £95 and because DFA is not for profit, it is looking for corporate sponsors to help reduce costs and to fund more equipment and training. For more information go to: www.driverfirstassist.org