Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp


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Transporting a hypothermic victim requires a different kind of care compared to other emergency situations. In this rescue scenario, it is much more important to move slowly and carefully, and to handle the victim with great care, than it is to rush and get the victim to the ambulance as fast as possible. Just keep in mind these general principles:

  • Be gentle.

  • Keep the victim as horizontal as possible.
  • Take your time to make sure you can carry the victim safely.  Jostling the victim can cause ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest.

Tools to help make the transport process easier include the Stokes Litter (fairly common in most agencies), a backboard, and a simple plastic tarp, which is easy to store in either boat or car.

Stokes LitterSample-Stokes-Litter

 Stokes Litters are extremely popular pieces of equipment for safe carriage of a cold victim. Their advantages include:

  • Aluminum tube and mesh construction make them lightweight to hoist and carry victims.

  • Integral floatation, where fitted, makes makes them easy to load a victim in the water.

  • Their shape cradles the victim in place, minimizing the risk of jostling.

  • They collapse for easy storage.

  • They can be loaded directly into an ambulance for transfer to the hospital.
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 Like the Stokes Litter, backboards are in very common use for victim carriage.  They are constructed of lightweight, aluminum, wood or plastic and provide a rigid surface on which to place the victim.  In contrast to the Stokes Litter, however, they are completely flat. Victims must be secured to the backboard in multiple locations using laterally applied straps. In addition, padded blocks should be used at either side of the victim’s head to limit movement and prevent neck injury. Multiple hand holds are provided at the edges of the backboard along its length to facilitate multi-person carriage.

Plastic Tarp

tarpPeople are often rescued by non-professionals who wouldn’t necessarily have more advanced mechanisms for victim transfer. In the absence of these tools, store a blanket and small tarp on board for victim rescue and transport purposes.

To prepare for transport, be sure to carefully move or place the victim into the center of the tarp. Roll the side edges of the plastic to make handles.

As neither the tarp nor blanket provide a rigid framework for the victim, additional care should be taken to keep the victim as horizontal as possible. Lift and carry the victim for
transfer to the ambulance.

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