A Sailor is walking through the passageway when they hear a cry for help from a nearby compartment. The Sailor rushes into the compartment and see others gathered around the injured shipmate. What is the Sailor’s next move?
This scene is one that has played out multiple times while the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington has undergone its refueling complex overhaul period. With thousands of Sailors and civilian workers walking about the ship and handling heavy industrial equipment, the risk of injury is ever-present. Knowing how to respond in a situation like this can be the difference between life and death, and shows a commitment to readiness across the board.
Hospital corpsmen aboard George Washington use their past experiences, knowledge, and skills to train their shipmates on first aid and stretcher bearer techniques so that anyone is prepared to act if called upon. When a casualty aboard the ship occurs, it is often the nearest Sailor, and not necessarily a hospital corpsman, who is the first responder.
“Everybody from the [Chief of Naval Operations], to the [Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy], to our [commanding officer]…you hear this phrase all of the time, ‘combat readiness,’” said Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman David Long, medical department’s leading chief petty officer. “It means ships taking damage at sea, doing damage control, and Sailors are going to get hurt. The entire medical system, the doctor’s, surgeon’s, and corpsman’s ability to save lives is built on the idea that every Sailor can provide effective first aid on the scene of an injury.”
Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Dolgonos, a Sailor assigned to the medical department aboard George Washington, stated the three basic purposes of first aid are to save a life, prevent further injury, and to get Sailors back into the fight, which all affect the combat readiness of the ship.
“Your shipmates are going to be there first when something happens to you if you get injured,” said Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Chevy Wade, a medical training team member assigned to George Washington. “Medical isn’t usually the first responder. It is important for your shipmates to know how to take that initial action and turn you over to medical properly.”
Sailors aboard George Washington learn through medical training how to assess people that require first aid and how to transport Sailors if required to do so.
“The skills that every Sailor on the ship should be able to perform is a basic trauma assessment,” said Long. “A head-to-toe assessment, searching for life-threatening injuries, which are in the order of importance: massive bleeding, obstructed airways, and sucking chest wounds – you should be trained to treat all of those injuries.”
During the basic trauma assessment, Sailors should conduct circulation, airway, and breathing checks to accurately assess the condition of the injured person. During a secondary assessment, Sailors should look for deformities, contusions, abrasions, penetrations, burns, tenderness, lacerations, and swelling, according to Dolgonos.
“The orange Reeves Sleeves will be all over the ship,” said Long. “Everybody should know how to safely load somebody onto one of them and how to operate or act as part of a team to move somebody safely.”
George Washington Sailors consistently face situations where they must put their first aid knowledge to use.
“We have medical emergencies every week, and [medical department personnel] are rarely the first people there,” said Long. “Sailors from engineering, reactor, and air [department] have all performed very well in the past year of bandaging people up, applying splints, and stabilizing people in place before medical even arrived on the scene.”
With Sailors consistently learning first aid, the medical response team will be able to arrive on scene ready to take the next steps.
“When we get to the scene, if a Sailor has done the proper first aid steps, stabilized them in a way where they feel warm and comfortable, that’s always the best feeling,” said Long. “The ideal outcome.” “It’s too late to learn once it happens; take first aid seriously and help your shipmates,” said Wade.