Last summer I rolled up on a motorcycle crash that had just happened in the center of the town I live in. I wanted to help, but the only thing I knew was to not remove the rider's helmet, which other people had already done. The only thing I could do was stand out of the way. I felt useless. When the New England Riders Facebook group organized a Road Guardians class about accident scene management, I couldn't sign up quickly enough.

This video that we shared last month gives a brief overview of the information that I learned in the class. While it's a good video, it's no substitute for spending a full day learning the nitty-gritty details of how to deal with the various situations that may arise. Any crash scene is a chaotic environment. Reviewing many possible permutations of that chaos can help prepare you to deal with the unpredictable circumstances of a real crash and adapt to them.

The simple acronym PACT summarizes the steps, in order of priority, of how to handle a crash scene:

  • Prevent further injury
  • Assess the situation
  • Contact EMS
  • Treat the injured with life-sustaining care

The first thing you do is prevent anyone else from getting hurt. This includes traffic control around the crash scene to make sure a second crash doesn't happen. It also covers making sure anyone touching the victim (with consent, if conscious) is wearing protective gloves. Next, analyze the situation. How did the crash happen? You can expect to find different injuries in a head-on collision than a low-side crash. Call 911 to report the accident and request assistance. Be ready to tell the dispatcher what happened, the number of victims and injuries, and your location. If you don't have a cell signal, designate someone to go find a signal or a nearby landline to call from. Then, and only then, do you start providing care to the victim. Naturally, if there are multiple people on the scene you can multitask and begin care while someone else is calling 911. The priorities, though, are protecting others at the scene, requesting emergency services, and giving them the information they'll need to know when they get there.

Although this is absolutely no substitute for a proper first aid/CPR class, we did go over some basic information for dealing with life-threatening trauma. Most of us know that you should never remove a helmet unless the victim can't breathe, for fear of spinal injury. If the victim isn't breathing, though, that helmet has to come off. We learned and practiced how two people can team up to remove a helmet as safely as possible under such extreme circumstances, as well as how to use the Jaw Thrust technique to help open a clogged airway. We also went over the most fundamental basics of treating wounds, broken bones, and shock. Finally, we learned how to assess a possible spinal injury, and how to restrict the victim's movement to prevent the problem from getting worse before trained emergency personnel arrive.

Even though it lasted a full day, this course barely scratched the surface of any of these subjects. Each one could be a full course or more on its own, such as first aid/CPR. Knowing these basics, however, will help me figure out how I can be best put to use at a crash scene. If there happens to be a nurse at the scene, I'd likely let them handle the medical aspect while I handle traffic control or calling for help. In fact, since I'm a licensed amateur radio operator with experience in emergency communications, I'd likely step up to handle the 911 call. If I'm the only one on the scene with any knowledge of how to get a victim breathing again, though, that would be my priority after assigning people to handle the other tasks.

I got a lot out of this course. I'm confident that if I rolled up on that crash in the center of town again today, I'd be able to do a lot more than just stand there. By our nature, motorcyclists cover a lot of miles on the road. This makes us more likely than most people to stumble across any crash, whether it involves a motorcycle, car, or pedestrian. Knowing how to handle the situation is good knowledge for any motorcyclist to have, whether you ride in large events, small groups of friends, or alone. I've learned from experience that you never know when you're going to need it.

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