This is what they mean when they go on about life skills...

8/9/2011'Gazette reporter Tom Foster learns first aid at the Hemel Hempstead St.John Ambulance headquarters.
8/9/2011'Gazette reporter Tom Foster learns first aid at the Hemel Hempstead St.John Ambulance headquarters.

When the call came round at work for a volunteer to spend a day learning basic first aid skills, my hand went up like a shot.

I’m no have-a-go hero inspired by watching too many episodes of Casualty, and I wasn’t looking for a convincing reason for being out of the office all day.

But if someone offers to teach you something so important, what is there to stop you? What if, some day in the future, I’d be in the right place at the right time – and be completely the wrong person, because I didn’t take the chance to learn lifesaving skills when it was offered?

My one day basic course in Hemel Hempstead was run by the St John Ambulance Service, and I was one of a class of 20, all with varying degrees of experience.

Together we represented all types of work, from offices to building sites.

Friendly but direct instructors Melanie Maynard and Maggie Martindale guided us through the day.

From cuts and burns to choking and CPR, they were aiming to make sure that if that emergency every did happen, we would have something approaching a clue – and the confidence to get stuck in.

After brief introductions and a cuppa, it was down to business.

Throughout the day, the key themes of how to approach most first aid situations were brought up time and time again.

Chief amongst these is the acronym DRABC, standing for danger, response, airways, breathing and circulation.

It’s important to make sure that you’re not putting yourself in danger by rushing to someone’s aid.

Getting yourself injured would be of no use to a casualty in need of assistance, and so checking for further danger is paramount.

From then onwards, checking a casualty’s responsiveness is important, and from there assessing their situation.

Breathing and a steady heartbeat are obviously key, and techniques are geared towards maintaining or even restarting those essential systems.

The course also busted a number of medical myths. Heavy nosebleed? Then don’t tilt the head back. Instead, lean the head forwards and pinch the nose firmly.

Melanie, who has a background in first aid, stretching back to her first days as an 11-year-old St John cadet aged 11, has in her long career run a St John Division, taught first aid to the police and been honoured by the Queen.

She said: “People will generally help other people if they can.

“First aid training is important as it gives people the confidence to do something if someone is hurt.

“We all sing from the same hymn sheet and believe that it should be taught in schools.

“It would help children assist their friends if they have an accident, and give them the confidence to act right there and then.

“Unfortunately the government doesn’t see the need to put it in the curriculum, unlike in some European countries where it is.”

The latter part of the training day was spent focusing on the more serious potential incidents where you may find a person unconscious, breathing or otherwise.

This involved the whole class getting hands on, learning how to move people into the correct recovery position to aid breathing, and avoid choking.

If they are found not breathing, we were taught as first aiders how to initiate CPR, involving as a general rule 30 chest pumps and two rescue breaths on a continuous cycle until rescue can help.

We were even provided with disposable face shields that can be used to avoid picking up anything unpleasant when carrying out CPR.

At the end of the day I’d managed to earn myself a certificate to indicate I was trained in basic first aid, and now feel that I’m confident enough to take action if a situation ever called for me to step in.

And for those concerned about putting themselves at risk of compensation claims by trying to help, anyone with a first aid certificate from St John Ambulance is automatically covered in case a claim is made against them.