Ah, the fire extinguisher. Such a reassuring presence, as if the mere fact of a fire extinguisher mounted nearby might prevent a dangerous blaze in the first place.
Were it only true. In fact, a fire extinguisher can be a false sense of security. Especially if you’ve never bothered to figure out how it works. Because as sure as the swallows return to Capistrano each year, you won’t have much luck with an extinguisher if the first time you consider its operation is when a fire has broken out.
Know what type it is. Extinguishers are rated A, B, or C, for the class of fire they fight (respectively: wood and paper, flammable liquids like grease, and electrical fires). Most homes are best served by a multi-class extinguisher rated ABC.
When facing a fire, judge whether it’s actually worth fighting. Generally, if half a room is in flames, it’s too late for an extinguisher. In fact, if the fire is bigger than you, firefighters generally recommend calling 911 and getting you and anybody else out and away from the fire.
If you deem it manageable, remember the acronym “PASS.” PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. Pull the pin for the handle, which may entail breaking glass or snapping a seal to get at the pin itself. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. Then squeeze the trigger to start the chemical blast. Sweep the extinguisher’s spray side to side across the fire’s base. Keep sweeping and blasting until the fire is out.
If you’ve had a fire that required full extinguishing, it’s important to call the fire department to inspect the area and ensure you have no hidden hot spots. You don’t want Mr. Flame rearing his ugly head after you’ve already used up your extinguisher.
Earthquakes are always a bit of a surprise. If you already live in an earthquake-prone area, you’ve no doubt set aside the requisite earthquake kit complete with basic tools, first aid supplies, the minimum of water and food for at least a week, blankets, flashlight, batteries, and a portable radio. Your first concern when the rumbler hits is keeping yourself out of harm’s way.
The ideal place to be is where nothing can fall on you. The middle of a football field is ideal. Unfortunately, it’s hard to plan your location around an earthquake. So, you might be in your car. Pull off the road as far away from telephone poles, overpasses, power lines, and buildings as possible. Stay in your car; it affords some measure of protection against falling debris. Stay there until you’re absolutely sure the quake and aftershocks are over.
More than likely, however, you’ll be in a building. Get clear of the structure if there is a large, open space next to it. Otherwise, get as far away from the windows as possible, and seek shelter under the sturdiest piece of furniture you can find. During the earthquake, stay on your knees with your head and neck covered by your hands and arms. If you’re outside, stay away from power lines, poles, and anything else that could fall on you.
Afterward, exercise caution. Assess whether your structure is safe. Aftershocks are just about guaranteed, and a strong one can bring down a damaged structure. Check the building for spot fires, gas leaks (you’ll know by the smell), and obvious damage that indicates the structure is compromised. Also check for electrical problems—anything sparking means shutting off the power to the whole building.
In your car, tune to the local emergency broadcast station for information about road conditions. After all, before you head off anywhere, you want to be sure you can get there.
We all like a good swim now and again, but not when you’re lying in your tent after a day of hiking, you’re out walking your dog, or you’re just driving to the store. But that’s how quick the watery demon of a flash flood can strike. The defining characteristics of this nasty natural disaster is how quick and hard it hits.
The worst place to be is in your car. You’ll see the flooding happen—it occurs in a flash after all—and at first sign leave your car. Don’t worry about the vehicle being waterlogged, you can let the insurance company sort it out (it’s a lot better than finding out how good your death benefits are). Over half of flash flood fatalities happen in vehicles. And most of those occur because people mistakenly drive across what they think is just a shallow eddy. But the current is running so quick and hard, that it carries the vehicle to deeper waters.
Outside your vehicle, getting through a flash flood unscathed is largely a matter of position. If you find yourself in a low-lying area, downstream of dam, or nearby a riverbank, find higher ground. If you’re in your home, head to the roof. This is one time when it’s not only legal, but smart to get high.
No matter what, fight the urge to swim after your belongings or even your pets. The fast-moving water of a flash flood—shallow or not—is so strong that it can sweep away even a strong swimmer. Your whole goal should be to stay out of the water.
Once the flood is over, stay where you are. Rescuers generally do a grid-by-grid search for survivors, and your chances of being quickly found are better if you’re visible and stationary.
It’s easy to take the clear view through your windshield for granted. But when your hood pops up, you start to appreciate just how valuable it is to see the road.
Shock and awe aside, this emergency is really not all that serious.
Keep driving until you can safely and sanely pull to the side of the road. Ignore your high-triple- digit heart rate, and either look through the open space at the base of your windshield, or stick your head out the driver’s side window to steer. This will give you plenty of visibility and a chance to get the car off the road without further incidence.
Once you’ve stopped as far off the road as possible, check that the hood can be relatched, and that it is solidly held down. If the latch is tentative, damaged, or the hood itself is visibly warped or misshapen, call for a tow.
Outlast a Tornado
Even with today’s sophisticated weather tracking technology, the science of predicting when and where a tornado will strike (or move) is still pretty imprecise. And unfortunately, even a near- miss can be catastrophic. If you see a tornado, gauge its movement. Pick a landmark to the left or right and note if it gets closer or farther away from the landmark. Whatever way the tornado is moving, you need to gun it in the opposite direction if you are in your car. If you’re not in your car or the tornado is gaining on you faster than you can move, seek shelter. Your car is not shelter. An underground tornado shelter would be wonderful, but what are the odds? Next up is a deep basement, preferably one with no windows. If there are windows, block them with anything solid you can find. No basement? Get to the lowest floor of the building and cover yourself with anything soft, like a mattress or a dense layer of thick blankets. Now just wait.
Mother Nature has her temper tantrums, but few are as purely terrifying as a full-blown avalanche. The best course of action is prevention. Stay off backcountry slopes of 35 to 45 degrees and away from tree-stripped alleys that indicate a previous avalanche route. If you must hike on snow-covered mountain terrain, attach an avalanche beacon to an inner layer of clothing. In an emergency, the beacon will emit a signal that rescuers can follow to find you under the snow.
An avalanche announces itself with a thunder-like boom. The snow pack will be traveling in excess of 60 miles an hour, so you’re not going to directly outrun it. Instead, if you have a viable escape route off to the side, take it.
If you’re trapped in an avalanche’s path, ditch equipment and supplies because you want to be as light as possible. Crouch down to limit your body target area because fully half of the avalanche deaths each year are the result of blunt force trauma from debris in snow.
The avalanche has the same wave effect as a strong surf. Get as close to the surface as possible. Swim as hard you can—the entire event usually takes less than a minute. As you come to rest, make a space as large as possible with your hands in front of your face. This will create an air pocket, which is vitally important because the snow settles and hardens into a dense layer in the aftermath of the avalanche. If you’re very close to the surface, slowly dig an access hole. Otherwise, conserve oxygen by remaining calm. Don’t shout for help unless you can hear rescuers moving over the snow; the packed snow will usually mute any noise. Your fate is now in the hands of the rescuers. After you’re extricated, it’s time to consider summer sports.
Canoes are prone to tip over and they can be downright flummoxing to turn right side up again. And then there’s the daunting challenge of getting back in once you’ve managed to turn the thing right side up.
It’s all a matter of balance. If you’re on a river, gather everything that was thrown out of the canoe and pop it under the overturned canoe. Then swim the canoe to the nearest shore. Once on land, turn the canoe over and shove off as you would anywhere.
In the middle of a lake or a bigger river, a capsized canoe is a bit more of a challenge. You’ll be aided by your life jacket, which will keep you afloat while you gather your energy for the righting. Slide the paddles under the canoe, and follow them. There will be an air pocket, allowing you to breathe and initiate the first part of the project: righting the canoe.
Position yourself at the center and grab the side that to which you’ll be righting the boat. Now put your other hand on the center seat or centerboard support, dip down and then scissor kick as powerfully upward as you can. When you pop up out of the water, jerk the side of the boat down at the same time you give the center seat a mighty shove. The canoe should flip over if you’ve done the push-pull motion hard enough. It may take a couple of tries. Rest between tries, but not too long—cold water may steal your energy and put you at risk of hypothermia.
Righting the canoe is always easier with two people, as is getting back in.
With the canoe sitting right-side up in the water, it’s time to get back in the boat. If you have a partner, position one of you on either side of the boat. While one person gets in, the other will steady the side. Then the person inside the boat counterbalances the weight to allow the person in the water to come up over the side. The same mounting motion is used whether you’re alone or in pairs, but you’ll just have to do it more carefully if you’re by yourself.
Position yourself at the middle of the canoe’s length. Grab the edge and get ready to kick up and out of the water as high as you can. Explode out of the water and throw your free hand across to grab the other side. Simultaneously curve your torso over the near edge and fluidly turn your body so that you land in the bottom butt first. Keep your center of gravity low and controlled throughout. All that remains is to paddle away.
You might be the type of guy who can lift two five-gallon pails of paint like they were marshmallow fluff, and laughs off the kind of suture-worthy injuries that would send lesser models of manhood skittering to the emergency room. All this may be so. But you will never win a confrontation with Mr. Electricity. Especially not in the concentrated form that flows through a high voltage power line.
Caution has never been more important than when you come across a downed power line, or one comes across you. If a power line falls on a car you’re in, stay inside. The car is grounded and you’re not. Don’t touch anything inside the car. Just breathe easy and wait for the professionals to arrive and bail you out.
Generally, downed power lines are to be avoided. Never assume that one is not live simply because it’s not doing the movie thing and sparking like some Fourth of July fireworks display. If you feel you absolutely have to get around the wire, be aware the electricity can be conducted along the surface of a water puddle, grease in the road, or any other conductive surface like a metal plate. Always best to go back the way you came whenever possible.
Of course, you may have come across a victim of that power line. Do the right thing, but don’t get killed doing it. Get the person away from the power line with whatever wooden object is at hand. A chair, a broomstick or even a branch will serve. Under no circumstances should you touch the victim until he is well away from the wire. When you have him safely in hand, check the victim for a pulse and determine if he is breathing. If not, start CPR.
You don’t have to be a braniac to know the downside to winter sports is the cold. More than simple discomfort, low temperatures can lead to the very unpleasant and appendage-threatening condition called frostbite.
Frostbite happens in stages, and the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to remedy. It starts with a tingling sensation almost like when a foot goes to sleep. The skin numbs up and takes on an unusual, waxy texture. At the other end of the spectrum the skin is actually, black and completely cold to the touch, and chances are the affected area isn’t going to make it as part of your body much longer.
The solution is simple and a little obvious: you need to heat up the affected area. But this can be easier said than done in the great outdoors and, in any case, you need to be careful how you warm up your frostbitten parts. If you can, get to shelter and start quaffing warm water or warm tea. Get your frostbitten part under dry warm blankets or clothes and let your body do the warming. Go slow. Trying to heat frostbitten skin under hot water or by rubbing vigorously can hurt as much as it helps.
You’ll know when the frostbite is being conquered because the skin will start to have sensation again. That sensation may be a little unpleasant at first, almost like burning, depending how severe the frostbite was, but that’s the healing process. In any case, if you’ve experienced any prolonged changes in skin color and texture, or if the skin remains numb, you need to get a medical pro on the case as soon as possible. Even moderate frostbite can lead to lasting damage and requires a professional medical assessment.
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that you need to bust down a door to save someone from a fire, and not that you want to get into your girlfriend’s house to catch her with the other man. Better to stick to the high road.
Don’t even consider ramming it with your shoulder. Your shoulder is a very complicated joint that was not built to withstand direct impact. A door, generally speaking, was. Two guesses which one of those comes away from the meeting in better shape. Keep your shoulder to yourself and use basic physics instead.
Before you go all Rambo on the door, first check to see if it’s even locked. Next, look at the hinges. If the door opens outward, even Sgt. Fury couldn’t get through it without a battering ram and a half hour of hard labor. In other words, if opens toward you, you’ll need to find a window or a small amount of C4.
If the door is ripe for breeching, you’ll need to generate the most force possible. Plant your non- kick foot slightly behind your body as a solid base, cock your kicking leg, and then explode through your hips, putting all your weight into the kick. You want to kick with your heel, aiming to the inside of the door handle, or deadbolt if there is one. Don’t actually kick the hardware; that’s just a recipe for injury.
Depending on what the door is made of and how sturdy the deadbolt is, it’s likely that you’ll need more than one kick. But even if the door is solid, the jamb is probably wood. Sooner or later, one of the two will splinter into pieces and give way. Then you’re clear to save those kittens from the fire. Sgt. Fury would be proud.
Hands, arms, and legs are all pretty nifty parts of the machine called your body. But sometimes you have to choose the whole team over one member. If you’re stuck in the wrong place, held fast by a pinned limb, it may have to go.
But first, exhaust all other options. If you have enough food and water to hold out, wait for rescuers to find you. Use a rope, hiking pole, ski, or other prying implement to free the limb. Even if you damage it, better a broken wing than no wing at all.
Sometimes, though, removal is the only answer. Use a sharp instrument such as a hunting knife or a multipurpose tool blade. Even the sharp edge of a large flat piece of shale or scree can work.
Apply a tourniquet, using shoelaces, a T-shirt or anything else that can be tied around the limb, between the amputation point and the body. Tie it super tight. This is very important.
Start slicing. Put your belt between your teeth and cut cleanly and quickly around the limb and down to the bone. You’ll feel the blade contact bone, and then make a cut all around it.
Now break through the bone. You won’t be able to cut through it even with a very sharp edge. You can smash the bone with a large rock or other heavy implement, but if possible, use your knife to score a reasonably clean fracture line. Depending on where you’re stuck and the angle of your body, you may be able to lever the limb, to crack the bone in the question.
If you’ve managed to power through this without fainting, you are indeed special forces material. But the ordeal is not yet over.
Sever any remaining tissue. Dress the stump as best you can. Get to medical help as fast as humanly possible.
Looking at a severed digit is disconcerting. Your initial reaction may be to lose your lunch, but buck up because there’s every chance that the body part can be put back where it belongs. The key to success is getting it to the operating room in optimal condition.
First things first though. Call 911. Professional expertise will be essential if the victim goes into shock, and EMTs will also be well-versed in transporting severed digits.
Stop the bleeding at the amputation site, and dress the stub with sterile gauze. Gently wash the severed part without scrubbing or even rubbing, and wrap in dampened sterile gauze. Place the unit in a dry sandwich bag, and place that plastic bag in another bag filled with ice.
Even if you decide, for whatever reason, to take off for the emergency room before the ambulance arrives, drive sane. The part can be successfully reattached hours after the initial injury.
The worst of all possible outcomes in an elevator is that the down button is taken literally. Terrifying as a freefall might be, you’re not likely to die; elevator technology ensures that the only type that can descend in freefall are hydraulic versions that can’t go higher than 70 feet. (The reason why this particular emergency is extremely rare.)
Focus on limiting damage. Lie face down at the center of the floor with your arms covering the back of your head. This position will distribute the impact over the greatest amount of body surface. You’re also in a position to defend yourself against debris from the elevator crumpling. Don’t buy into the urban myth that you can jump at just the right moment and come out of the incident unscathed. It’s impossible to time a jump that precisely.
Of course, you increase your chances of survival to a 100 percent by taking the stairs.
We’ve all done it. Halfway through the afternoon, blood sugar waning dangerously, and the only food source around for blocks is the street vendor selling oddly gray hot dogs. But it’s just a hot dog. What could be the harm?
Pity the poor soul who can answer that question in detail.
Food poisoning is the result of bacteria growth due to improper food preparation or handling. (It should have been a tip off when the hot dog vendor snatched the dog from the bin with his fingers
…) The symptoms of real food poisoning are quick and definitive. You’ll be evacuating at both ends, experiencing cramps when you’re not, and generally feeling truly miserable for the entire ride. The secret to getting over a case of food poisoning is to avoid exacerbating the situation, and resetting your system.
Even though you want a cure (or simply to be put out of your misery), take it slow. Don’t eat or drink anything for a couple of hours, until your stomach has completely calmed down. When time has passed, slowly introduce water, and electrolyte fluids like sports drinks to replace what vomiting has taken out of you. This won’t immediately make you feel better, but it will set the stage for full recovery.
Next, introduce your system to the BRAT diet used with ailing children—bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Simple foods, gentle on the stomach. Ease in to normal foods after a day or so, when you’re feeling more like yourself. Even though you may feel like you’re on death’s front door, you only need a doctor if you notice blood in vomit, experience a seizure or high fever, or fall victim to other, more severe symptoms. Otherwise, there’s no speeding up the process. It’s just a long trip through unhappyville.