Ordinary heroes

What I wonder is if ordinary Singaporeans are prepared to be first responders, attending to the wounded during an emergency before paramedics arrive on the scene. How many of us have been trained in first aid and CPR, or in the use of an AED? Will bystanders here stare in shock until the ambulance arrives, or will they rush forward and apply first aid during those crucial moments when victims may be losing a lot of blood and time is of the essence?

As tragic as the Boston Marathon bombings were, and continues to be — at the time of writing, police are still searching for the second suspect following shoot-outs which have killed one police officer and critically wounded another — one thing that has amazed me is how heroes have emerged from among ordinary bystanders at the scene of the bombings.

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

There was Carlos Arrendondo (photo above, in cowboy hat), who with the help of another bystander, tied a tourniquet around the thighs of victim Jeff Bauman (in wheelchair) who tragically had both his legs blown off. Bauman himself was a hero in his own right, not just for surviving the blast, but for providing FBI agents valuable leads to one of the bombers from his hospital bed.

Then there was a medical doctor, Chris Rupe, who had just completed the marathon minutes before the bombs went off but turned back despite fears of further bombs going off. He then proceeded to provide emergency treatment to victims, many with dismembered limbs, for about an hour.

Another bystander, Bruce Mendelsohn, who was in the building next to the bombing, ran downstairs and attended to several victims with shrapnel wounds and mangled limbs, then went back up to his office — and threw up.

I hope a disaster like this never happens in Singapore, but I know it’s not a matter of if, but when. Even if it isn’t a terrorist attack that hits us, such “war scenes” can occur as a result of a horrific traffic accident or industrial disaster. The Hotel New World collapse in 1986 comes to mind, even though I was just a primary three student when it happened.

But the question that occurred to me is: Are we ready for this?

No, I’m not asking if our emergency services and police ready — with all the resources pumped into the Home Team, I am sure they are sufficiently prepared.

What I wonder is if ordinary Singaporeans are prepared to be first responders, attending to the wounded during an emergency before paramedics arrive on the scene. How many of us have been trained in first aid and CPR, or in the use of an AED? Will bystanders here stare in shock until the ambulance arrives, or will they rush forward and apply first aid during those crucial moments when victims may be losing a lot of blood and time is of the essence? Do all our schools conduct first aid training for students? (I know some do.) Are all our citizen soldiers trained in CPR? (During my time, I recall only being trained when I went for my advanced infantry course, not during Basic Military Training.)

I think it will be useful for as many Singaporeans as possible to be trained in basic first aid, so that they can respond to emergencies before the paramedics arrive. We shouldn’t always “leave it to the authorities” — no matter how competent they may be, they cannot be everywhere, all the time.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) offers a free first aid training at its four division headquarters under the Community Emergency Preparedness Programme. They even have their course notes available for download here.

Equally importantly, if you see something suspicious in public areas, call 999 immediately. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. As the catchy US Department of Homeland Security advice goes, “If you see something, say something.”

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

2 thoughts on “Ordinary heroes”

Comments are closed.