There are a number of diagnostic tools, medications, and devices that EMS providers will have access to, that are simply not available to nonprofessionals, or they’re simply priced in a way that makes them unrealistic. That said, the vast majority of the items that you’d find in the back of a typical ambulance are things that nonprofessionals can purchase at your local drug store or find online with just a few clicks.
When building your own first-aid kit, you think of three different sizes, which we can appropriately call small, medium and large.
A small kit might be something that you fit into a day pack when taking a short hike or canoe trip (but are still well within the range of EMS support); a medium pack might be something that’s packed for overnight camping or canoe trips, or is kept in your car; and a large kit might be something that is included at events where you know you’ll be more than a few hours from EMS coverage. That might mean a multi-day hiking trip; a trip to the family cabin outside of a metro area, or a cub scout or boy scout event miles from the closest emergency room.
What’s the Mission
Before buying a single product, you should answer the question, “What’s the mission?” In other words, in what environment, and what capacity do you want the emergency first aid kit serve? Your “mission” will change depending upon where you are, where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be supporting, and how far from EMS coverage you’ll be.
Comfort versus Life-Saving
Regardless of the size of the kit, items can be categorized by whether they’re a “comfort” item, or a life-sustaining item.
Comfort items are the things that are found in most first aid kits, and would include things like band-aids, first aid cream, poison ivy wipes, aspirin, and cold packs.
That said, many “comfort” items can become life sustaining items in the proper situation. For example, as we’ve already discussed, in certain situations, aspirin can providing a life-sustaining boost to individuals who are suffering chest pains caused by a heart attack (but who have not yet moved into cardiac arrest).
Similarly, cold packs can be used to comfort a patient who has suffered a broken ankle or wrist, or it can be used to save the life of a patient who has suffered from heat stroke, by placing cold packs on the major blood vessels on the neck, the armpits, and the groin. Although many devices and medications can cross between “comfort” and “life-sustaining,” we’ve organized the tables on the next few pages between those two categories, in order to make your purchases and priorities a bit easier to understand.