The History of First Aid

There are many interesting facts about the subject of first aid. It is believed that the term first aid came from a combination of first treatment and national aid. Historians tell us that the first public first-aid course was conducted in London in 1878 shortly after the creation of both the Red Cross and the St John Ambulance. But there are many stories involving medical help for the general public which go back thousands of years.

We have no records of course but can well imagine that prehistoric people discovered the methods and benefits of first aid simply by experience, by trial and error. If a caveman, living thousands of years ago, received a cut or wound to their body it probably didn’t take long to realize that by placing something over the bleeding it was possible to stop the loss of blood. And then over the centuries as humankind grew wiser and better educated, people discovered so many aspects of first-aid. They learnt that a broken bone could heal if placed in a splint made from everyday products like the branches of a tree. They learnt that feeling unwell with an upset stomach, poor bowel movements or a dizziness in their head could be relieved by taking certain medications.

Honey, the leaves of certain plants, even vegetables were used as basic items of first-aid. If the treatment worked then word of mouth advertising took over even as it does today. “I’ve got a sore throat,” said one prehistoric person. “Have you tried honey and warm water?” replied his neighbour.

One of the major reasons first-aid became used so widely was war. In battles hundreds, sometimes thousands of men were wounded and only when the powers that be saw the benefits of immediate first-aid did the idea of rescue and resuscitation become the norm. It’s hard to believe people could be so stupid, not to mention cruel, to have no policy of help for those who were wounded. And it’s even harder to believe that only when military chiefs saw the economic benefits in rescuing the wounded did strong action finally get taken. They were the ‘economic rationalists’ of their day.

But it still took time to twig that first aid was only really worthwhile if applied as soon as possible after the wound or illness was discovered. People discovered that not only could the basic first aid save lives it needed to be applied as quickly as possible.

Institutions of first-aid

The two best known organizations which deal specifically with first-aid are the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. Both were created in the 1870s and continue today with thousands of workers around the world. They are two institutions that have established themselves in the eyes of the public. For instance in war zones the famous red cross on a white background tells the world that first-aid treatment is available from the Red Cross. At so too many public events in which there are thousands of people participating, volunteers from some John ambulance are conspicuous with their uniform and first aid cases.

The National Health Service [NHS] in Britain came into being shortly after the World War 2. One of its rules of operation was that an ambulance should be sent to anyone in need of such a service. In fact ambulances in the UK began as a response to lunatics. People who were considered insane needed to be transported securely hence the invention of the ambulance. How times have changed. We now treat mental health as a serious condition and treat sufferers with the care and respect they deserve.

First Aid Kits

A first aid kit is a collection of supplies and equipment for use in giving first aid, and can put together for the purpose (by an individual or organization, for instance), or purchased complete. There is a wide variation in the contents of first aid kits based on the knowledge and experience of those putting it together, the differing first aid requirements of the area where it may be used, and variations in legislation or regulation in a given area.

The international standard for first aid kits is that they should be identified with the ISO graphical symbol for first aid (from ISO 7010) which is an equal white cross on a green background, although many kits do not comply with this standard, either because they are put together by an individual or they predate the standards.

The ISO only endorse the use of the green background and white cross, and this has been adopted as standard across many countries and regions, including the entire EU. First aid kits are sometimes marked (by an individual or organisation) with a red cross on white background, but use of this symbol by anyone but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or associated agency is illegal under the terms of the First Geneva Convention, which designates the red cross as a protected symbol in all countries signatory to it. One of the few exceptions is in North America, where despite the passing of the First Geneva convention in 1864, and its ratification in the United States in 1881,Johnson & Johnson has used the red cross as a mark on its products since 1887 and registered the symbol as a U.S. trademark for medicinal and surgical plasters in 1905.

Some first aid kits may also feature the Star of Life, normally associated with emergency medical services, but which are also used to indicate that the service using it can offer an appropriate point of care. However, for very small medical institutions and domestic purposes, the white cross on a plain green background is preferred.