What Are They?  –  When First Aid help arrives to the scene, whether it is on land or in water, medics bring a variety of equipment with them to save lives.  Let’s take a look at some of these valuable life-saving tools.

The casualty is in distress and the medics and hospital need important information that will allow them to determine the extent of the injury or illness.  This set of information is called “baseline vitals” and includes pulse, breathing, blood pressure and oxygen throughout the body.  Let’s take a look at what is used to capture these vitals.

A pulse refers to how many times the heart beats per minute.  Taking a pulse can be as easy as placing your fingers on it and using a watch to count and time the beats.  A “pulse ox” can also be used.  This device slips onto a finger and can read not only how many times the heart beats, but also how much oxygen is passing through the body.  This gives the medic two valuable readings at one time.


Oftentimes we see medics, doctors and nurses wearing a rubber tube attached to some earplugs with a metal disk on the end hanging around their neck.  This device is called a “stethoscope” and is used to listen to the casualty’s breathing or lung sounds.  It is also used to listen to how the heart beats and to take blood pressure readings.

Blood pressure is nothing more than the force exerted on the walls of your arteries by the pressure created as your heart pumps.  We can read this force by applying a “blood pressure cuff”— that thing they wrap around your upper arm and pump up with a small squeeze ball.  As the pressure in the cuff is slowly released the medic will use the stethoscope to listen to the heartbeat come and go.  This gives them your systolic and diastolic reading—very important information.

The vast majority of the time you will see a green or silver-green cylinder with a fancy gauge at the top.  This is the elixir of life, “oxygen.” It will be delivered to the casualty by way of a mask that will sit over their nose and mouth.

In a situation where a casualty needs to be moved, such as in cases of suspected spinal (back) injury, medics will use a “backboard” or a compact spinal immobilization kit called a KED (Kendrick Extrication Device).  Both the backboard and the KED are life-saving devices with which the medic trains will and use quite often, especially when the casualty is involved in an auto accident.

The most important device that the medic has is one we do not see in a box, around their neck or attached to casualty.  It is their knowledge, dedication and devotion to saving lives.  I personally want to thank each and every EMS member out there who devotes his or her life to saving others. 

Mark Wollner
Former EMT
EFR Instructor