4 Must Learn First Aid Skills To Save Someone in Emergencies


By: Elizabeth Obigwe, B.Sc. Anatomy. Freelance Writer; with medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team

First Aids skills for saving lives

First Aids Skills to Learn for Saving Lives




To manage an emergency effectively, you need to be able to stay calm and think clearly as these situations are usually sudden and can be shocking. In addition to mastering self-control in the face of an emergency, there are several actionable skills that you need to acquire and would help you to save someone in common emergency situations.


Aside from increasing survival rates, training lay people on first aid skills has been shown to decrease the cost of care at public health level [1].


Unfortunately, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not have standard national programs and policy to train their nationals on basic first aid skills.


To contribute to an increased level of awareness and knowledge of first aid among individual Africans, this article will discuss four important skills you need to learn to save someone in an emergency. 


Additional skills like how to control bleeding, help a choking or drowning victim, etc., are described elsewhere.


The 4 First Aids Skills To Learn


 1. CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)

If someone has a cardiac arrest, suddenly collapses, or becomes unresponsive and is not breathing normally, doing CPR on them can help maintain circulation until professional medical help arrives.


Performing CPR often requires that you give rescue breaths. However, if you do not want to give rescue breathes for any reason, it is better to perform hands-only CPR than to do nothing. This involves 100 to 120 uninterrupted chest compressions per minute until help arrives.


However, hands-only CPR is not advisable for children and infants. It is essential to give them rescue breaths because their cardiac arrest is typically a result of oxygen deprivation rather than cardiac issues, resulting in depleted oxygen levels.


Similarly, when an adult becomes unresponsive due to choking, a near-drowning incident, or any other situation that can lead to oxygen deprivation, it is best to perform CPR with rescue breaths rather than hands-only CPR.

Check here to learn how to perform CPR.


Click to watch the video below to learn how to perform adult CPR.


How to perform adult CPR. Click image to watch video


2. How to Perform Rescue Breathing

How to perform jaw thrust and chin lift

How to perform jaw thrust and head tilt-chin lift during rescue breathing. Click on image to enlarge.


As stated earlier, rescue breaths are often given together with CPR to get air into the victim's lungs if they cannot breathe by themselves. Follow these steps to give rescue breaths;

  • Place the victim on their back on a firm surface.
  • Tilt the victim’s head back slightly by placing one hand on their forehead and the other under their chin (head-tilt/chin-lift manoeuvre) to open the airway.
  • If you suspect a spinal or neck injury, use a jaw-thrust manoeuvre instead. In this case, push the posterior part of the lower jaw with your index and middle finger while pushing the chin down with your thumb to open the mouth. 
  • Look, listen, and feel for breathing for no more than 10 seconds. If the victim is not breathing or only gasping, proceed with rescue breaths.
  • Pinch the victim’s nose shut with your thumb and index finger to prevent air from escaping.
  • Place your mouth over the victim’s mouth, creating a complete seal.
  • Blow air into the victim’s mouth for about 1 second, watching for the chest to rise.
  • After the breath, remove your mouth to let the chest fall and air to escape.
  • Give a second rescue breath, ensuring the chest rises each time.
  • If you are performing CPR, follow the two rescue breaths with 30 chest compressions 
  • In the case of an infant, cover both the infant’s mouth and nose with your mouth to create a seal. Give gentle breaths, just enough to make the chest rise.


Watch the video below to learn how to perform rescue breathing only without CPR


How to perform adult rescue breathing. Click image to watch video


3. How to Use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

Correct positioning of AED pads on an the chest of an adult

A representation of the correct positioning of AED pads on an adult.


An automated external defibrillator is a device used to administer electric shock to the heart of a person with cardiac arrest. The aim is to help the heart resume its normal rhythm. So if someone has a cardiac arrest and there is an AED within reach, you should use it. Below are the steps to follow;

  • Call for help and start administering CPR while someone else helps you get the AED
  • Turn on the device and follow the voice prompts
  • Expose the victim’s chest. Remove any clothing (including bra), jewelry, medication patches or other obstructions
  • If the chest is wet, dry it off to ensure good adhesion of the AED pads
  • Place one pad on the upper right side of the chest (just below the collarbone) and the other on the lower left side of the chest (a few inches below the armpit).
  • Ensure that no one is touching the victim.
  • Press the “analyse” button if the AED does not automatically begin analysing the heart rhythm.
  • The AED will check the heart’s rhythm and determine if a shock is needed.
  • If the AED advises a shock, ensure everyone is clear of the victim and press the shock button. The AED will deliver a shock to the victim’s heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.
  • After the shock is delivered, or if no shock is advised, immediately resume CPR (starting with chest compressions).
  • Follow the AED’s prompts. It will typically instruct you to continue CPR for a period (usually 2 minutes) before it re-analyzes the heart rhythm.
  • Continue following the device’s prompts, delivering additional shocks if advised, and performing CPR in between analysis cycles.

Watch the video below to learn how to use an AED


How to Use An AED on an adult or child. Click on image to watch video.


4. How to Check for Signs of Life


Before trying to administer any first aid in an emergency, it is crucial to quickly assess the victim for signs of life. This can help you decide the most appropriate first-aid treatment to give. The primary signs of life include responsiveness, normal breathing, and circulation (pulse).


Checking for Responsiveness

To check for responsiveness, gently tap the victim's shoulder and shout, "Hello, Are you okay?", or say “Hello, I am (your name), Can you hear me? Open your eyes”. Look for any movement, groaning, attempt at eye opening or verbal response. If no response, to your voice command, next check for the patient’s response to pain by pinching the ear lobes moderately and check for any movements to locate and remove the source of the pain. 

If there is still no response, next check the airways for signs of breathing


Checking for Breathing

Normal breathing involves regular, effortless breaths. Abnormal breathing might be gasping or shallow breaths. To check if the victim is breathing normally, use the head-tilt/chin-lift manoeuvre to open the airway, then observe the chest for movement. You can also place your ear near the victim's mouth and nose, and listen for breath sounds or check if you feel air movement on your cheek for about 10 seconds.

If the person is not breathing, call for help (either using your open mobile phone or shout to nearby people to call the local emergency service). In the meantime, quickly check the unresponsive person’s pulse and for any sign of bleeding before beginning CPR. 


Checking for Pulse

The presence of a pulse indicates that the heart is still pumping blood. One of the easiest pulse sites to check is the carotid artery. To check the pulse, locate the carotid artery by placing two fingers (not your thumb*) on the victim's neck, to the side of the windpipe. Press gently and feel for a pulse. 

Other recommended sites for checking pulses, especially in infants are those of the femoral artery located in the groin area (where the thigh meets the lower abdomen) and the brachial artery located on the inside of the upper arm, between the elbow and shoulder. [4, 5]. 

If there is a pulse and the victim is breathing, place them in recovery position and keep monitoring their vital signs until help comes. It is recommended to check every 2 minutes.

If there is no breathing or abnormal breathing and no pulse, begin CPR immediately. Also, if you are unsure about the pulse and the victim is unresponsive, begin CPR.

Time is of the essence in an emergency so do not spend more than 10 seconds checking the pulse. 

* You shouldn’t use your thumb because the thumb has its pulse which may interfere with the victim’s pulse.

Watch the video below to learn how to check for signs of life/ do a danger assessment.


How to perform primary survey in adults and children in an emergency. Click image to watch video.




In the absence of organised national training programs in your country, individuals should make it their responsibility to learn how to manage emergencies. Reading resources, watching demonstrations and practising these skills can help prepare you for emergencies. You may not feel very confident when faced with a real-life situation but do your best to stay calm and act as fast as possible. It is better to try than to do nothing at all. 



1. Delaney PG, Eisner ZJ, Bustos A, Hancock CJ, Thullah AH, Jayaraman S, et al. Cost-effectiveness of lay first responders addressing road traffic injury in Sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Surgical Research. 2022 Feb;270:104–12. doi:10.1016/j.jss.2021.08.032. Available from here 

2. Obigwe E. How to save a life in an emergency (tips for Africans). DatelinehealthAfrica. [Internet, 2024 May]. Cited 2024 May 20. Available here.

3. Jones AR, Miller J, Brown M. Epidemiology of trauma-related hemorrhage and time to definitive care across North America: Making. The case for bleeding control education. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 2023 Oct 2;38(6):780–3. doi:10.1017/s1049023x23006428. Available from here.

4. Sarti A, Savron F, Ronfani L, Pelizzo G, Barbi E. Comparison of three sites to check the pulse and count heart rate in hypotensive infants. Pediatric Anesthesia. 2006 Jan 23;16(4):394–8. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9592.2005.01803.x. Available from here

5. Zimmerman B, Williams D. Peripheral pulse. NIH National Library of Medicine. [Internet, 2023 April]. Cited 2024 May 21. Available here



Related: How to Save A Life in an Emergency (Tips for Africans)



Published: June 24, 2024

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Video # 3: How to use an AED video link:

Video # 4: Primary survey video link:



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