First Aid Skills That Can Really Save a Life

There are those mommy first aid skills where a Band-Aid and a kiss are all that’s needed to make everything better. We can fix a cut finger or ice a twisted ankle or staunch a bloody nose, the skills we learn almost by osmosis from watching Mom or Grandma.

Then there’s stepping up during an emergency, the difference between life or death.

Saving lives is a mindset. It’s knowing how to do what you need to do and not being afraid to act. With the exception of using an EpiPen, nothing on this list requires special tools, just your brain, your hands, and your quick action.


It doesn’t get any more deadly than dead. Cardiac arrest is what paramedics call the condition that is commonly known as death: the heart is no longer pumping blood. Whatever the cause, there is only one outcome if cardiac arrest is not treated with CPR—the victim stays dead.

Use an EpiPen

girl using epi pen on a girl passed out on the floor

 Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergy that kills hundreds of people every year. Whether the allergy is to bees, peanuts, shellfish or antibiotics, anaphylaxis quickly progresses to dead if left untreated. The best way to stop anaphylaxis in its tracks is to use an EpiPen.

Heimlich Maneuver

When somebody’s choking on a piece of filet mignon, quick action is all that might stand between a minor dinner embarrassment and horrible death. Are you ready to force the offending meat out of the airway with a Heimlich maneuver?

Treat a Choking Infant

Babies are built differently than bigger kids and adults. So, for the under 12-month crowd, getting something out of the airway has more options, which is good, since these guys are much more likely to have something in there in the first place. When your curious little one gets a chunk of whatever caught in his pipe, do you know how to treat a choking baby?

Stop Bleeding

Man cutting bandaid for bleeding friend

Judith Haeusler / Cultura / Getty Images

With two steps, almost all bleeding can be controlled: pressure and elevation. Unfortunately, few things are as scary to us puny humans as letting our life-force leak out. In the midst of a nightmare, can you stop bleeding?

Treat Shock

After too much blood has been lost, the next step is too little blood pressure. We hear lots about how bad high blood pressure is, but while high blood pressure will kill you in a few years, low blood pressure can kill you in a few minutes. If you weren’t able to stop bleeding fast enough, you’d better be able to treat shock.

Treat Heat Stroke

The most important step in treating heat stroke is recognizing heat stroke. Hot, dry and confused in the middle of a hot day is a combination that should make you shudder, then make you call 911 and start throwing ice on the victim.

Treat Low Blood Sugar

As bad as low blood pressure is low blood sugar. This is one of those special situations that doesn’t affect everyone, but since diabetics don’t always have their diagnosis written on them (some do, on a bracelet), it’s a skill you should know. For most of us, too much sugar is a problem we suffer from all too often, but too little blood sugar is a killer. Everyone should know how to treat low blood sugar.

Treat Hypothermia

Like heat stroke, winning the battle against hypothermia starts with knowing hypothermia when you see it—or feel it. Warming a victim of hypothermia is arguably the easiest skill on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In cold weather, you should know how to treat hypothermia.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.