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Helping can hurt

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2015 | 8:15 PMDavion Smith
Afghan villagers move the victim of an avalanche from a helicopter to an ambulance in Panjshir province.
An injured person is carried on a stretcher to an ambulance at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York in October.

Hurrying to assist someone who has been injured or trapped in a vehicle following a road crash is a natural reaction. But attempting to help could cause more harm than good. Moving the injured person could aggravate their injuries or - even worse - kill them.

Emilio Ebanks, public relations officer for the Jamaica Fire Brigade, said passers-by can best help someone who has been in a crash by calling the authorities and waiting.

"Without proper training and equipment, you might make a bad situation worse. Call and wait for the authorities. Moving someone injured in an accident could mean the difference between them having the use of their legs or not," Ebanks said.

Senior medical officer at the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, Dr Rory Dixon, explained that the force involved in a motor vehicle crash can cause the spine to be dislocated, broken or become unstable.

He said if the spine becomes unstable, the injured person may still have function of the arms or legs, depending on how high the instability is.

"If you don't move the injured person accurately, you can convert it to a complete injury. The most important thing is to [leave it to] somebody who has knowledge about removing people. Whoever is moving the person needs to stabilise the neck, first of all," he said.

In the event that authorities are late in arriving, Dixon suggests using a towel for stabilisation.

"What usually happens is people try to just grab the person and pull them out [of the vehicle]. This is the wrong approach. You can wrap a beach towel into a roll and wrap it around their neck. This can help to stabilise it. You can get the same effect by using a firm piece of cardboard," Dixon said.

When an injured person is being moved, there needs to be open, unobstructed space to carry him or her through.

Dixon said there needs to be at least three people available to transfer the injured - one supporting the head and neck; another supporting the torso, and someone else supporting the injured person's lower extremities.