In Case of Emergency

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Emergency car kit essentials.

A 39-year-old hiker from Las Cruces, NM emailed me last night to tell me that he’d been bitten by a snake and that I’d saved his life. Well, I certainly didn’t, not literally. But turns out he’d read the article I’d written in the May 2013 issue of Men’s Fitness magazine: Be Your Own EMT: Fast fixes for 10 common (or freak) accidents, and followed the advice given by one of the doctors I’d interviewed, which was NOT to apply a tourniquet or suck out the venom—old guidelines he’d heard from the time he was a kid and assumed to be good. (To find out what you should do, read the online version here.)

I love researching and writing service pieces like that one, especially when I know they contribute to readers’ welfare.

As a former firefighter and current self-defense instructor—and even (or maybe especially) as an author—I think a lot about worst-case scenarios. (As Lisa Cron states in her wonderful book Wired for Story, we’re biologically driven to evaluate every encounter, real or imagined, based on one simple question: will this help me or hurt me? “The brain’s goal is to then predict what might happen, so we can figure out what the hell to do about it before it does. That’s where story comes in. By letting us vicariously experience difficult situations and problems we haven’t actually lived through, story bestows upon us, risk free, a treasure trove of useful intel, just in case.”)

The best time to think about how you’d respond to an emergency is before the emergency. That means things like: create a file with all your important information in case of death, decide what you’d take with you if you had only 3 minutes to evacuate your home in case of a fire threat (which happened recently to my friend in Utah), create and practice a home fire escape plan especially if you have kids, learn how to avoid potential attackers, take a CPR class (guidelines have changed since you were a lifeguard), and put together an emergency kit to keep in your car so that you can help others or yourself in case of an accident.

I couldn’t find a ready-made first-responder kit that included all the first-aid and car emergency items I wanted to keep in my car, so I assembled my own. This is by no means an exhaustive list—and items will vary according to climate—but it’s a good start. If you’ve got suggestions for other essentials, please leave a comment below.

  • Tote bag to keep everything handy
  • Chewable (not enteric-coated) 325mg aspirin to reduce the risk of death during a heart attack
  • Thin surgical gloves
  • Heavy-duty leather palm gloves
  • Various types and sizes of bandages: gauze wrap, Band-Aids
  • Scissors for cutting bandages, seatbelts, or clothing
  • Bottle of clean water
  • Snacks with long shelf life (granola bars, peanut butter, MREs)
  • Extra supply of regular Rx medications
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Benadryl cream and pills (can substitute for Epi pen for people with peanut or shellfish allergies)
  • Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash (binds with the toxin, urushiol, before or after breakout)
  • Tweezers for removing ticks and splinters
  • Peppermint candy for hypoglycemia
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Window breaking tool like ResQMe car escape tool (mine is also a seatbelt cutter and hangs on my keychain)
  • Thin blanket
  • 1-2 clean towels
  • Duct tape
  • Small fire extinguisher
  • Personal water filter
  • Empty gas tank
  • 12 oz. can tire inflator/sealant
  • Jumper cables
  • Flash light (hand crank)
  • Screwdrivers (flat and Philips
  • Safety vest
  • Emergency flares
  • Emergency cash ($20-50)
  • Matches or other fire starter