Upskill: Real First Aid skills for the real world

Written by Ben Stone

Within the world of martial arts instruction, teaching students how to deal with the obvious aftermath of a violent altercation is a link missing from the average syllabus. Here, founder and head trainer of Real First Aid Ben Krynski explains how he teaches these very skills — and why a good dose of gore makes them more effective in practice.

Real First Aid Ben Krynski
Founder and head trainer of Real First Aid Ben Krynski explains how he teaches these very skills — and why a good dose of gore makes them more effective in practice.

Ben, why is your business called ‘Real First Aid’ — are other first-aid courses not teaching real skills applicable in real situations? How do yours differ in how and what you present?

Good question. Our courses are definitely the real deal. Even our most basic courses are delivered through a simulation-based methodology that includes the use of fake blood, fake wounds, sounds, smells and even smoke. However, the true impact of our methodology comes out during the debriefs we run. As with everything, there are other courses that are good, and some less so. We see ourselves as the Singapore Air first-class suites of the first-aid training industry: you end up at the same destination, but the experience and memories are completely different.

It’s been said that your teaching is ‘principle driven’, making the methods easier to recall and apply under pressure. Can you explain what some of those key principles are, to give an example of how they might apply to multiple situations?

Sure…an example is treating an unconscious person. One of the principles that we instil is the importance of turning any unconscious patient onto their side, as this is crucial to maintaining the integrity of their airway. This principle can be incorporated into any situation: car accident, fall, drowning, terror attack, etc.

What kinds of people or organisations tend to do Real First Aid courses?

We train start-ups like Vino Mofo and Deliveroo, not-for-profits like Sea Shepherd and The Salvation Army, industry leaders such as Toll Shipping and Meridian Energy, and government clients both domestically and internationally. Essentially, we train companies, organisations and individuals who care about high-quality training. At the end of the day, if all that a client cares about is a certificate for compliance purposes, then there are easier ways of getting it than through us. But if they actually want their staff to be able to use the skills they are taught and gain valuable knowledge from the training, Real First Aid courses are the way to go.

How did you get into this line of work and what related training and employment did you do before starting Real First Aid?

Originally I trained as a first-responder, then a medic through the civilian ambulance service in Israel. I spent about two years there working on both basic and advanced life support ambulances and training overseas volunteers through a 10-day first-responder program. Back home in Australia I worked for a variety of training organisations while I was studying marine biology. Since then I have retrained as a paramedic through Monash University.

While I was training people in Australia, I saw how disinterested my students were after eight hours of lectures, and how very few retained the information. There had to be a better way. So, my experiences from Israel, training first-aid locally and my professional paramedic education in Australia inspired me to launch Real First Aid in 2014 with two partners. Our mission is to prepare people for the realities of emergency situations.

Can you take us through a scenario that you’ve encountered in real life and then replicated in training?

Many people who ask me these questions expect a gory, intense, dramatic scene, and although I can share plenty of stories like this, I often focus on much less dramatic, more common scenarios. A classic scenario from a real case I often replicate is of a 46-year-old female with lower back pain, indigestion, slight headache, mild nausea and a shortness of breath. You may think this is quite a benign description, but when we put the ECG monitor on her, she was having a heart attack. We treated her on the scene and then during transport, and she arrived in a very stable condition to hospital. Although I didn’t follow up with her, I am confident she had a positive outcome. I often replicate and discuss this case to demonstrate that heart attacks don’t always present with the left-sided pain radiating to the left arm, crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, etc. but can present in many different forms. Thus, it is essential to always suspect the worst-case scenario and take quick, effective action, even if all you can do is call 000.

Some people feel feint at the sight of blood and gore; does your training help people overcome that tendency so they can be effective in a real situation?

Blood and gore is not really an issue; the main issue with our form of training is the psychology danger from being inside of an immersive scenario. Our scenarios are so realistic that students begin to believe they are real and sometimes react in unexpected ways, with the scenarios bringing up flashbacks from the past that the students themselves aren’t even aware of. This is a hard risk to mitigate. We do have a comprehensive safety brief, and protocols, but it’s not just a problem we face but a challenge for the entire simulation-training industry. I sit on the Human Dimensions in Simulation Committee for Simulation Australasia, and I am an advisor for the Asia Pacific Simulation Alliance. A lot of the work I do there is based around improving psychological safety in simulation. We have a paper being released soon and another being presented at next month’s Simulation Conference in Sydney. 

When you teach these courses, do you find the students generally have a basic understanding of first aid, or is it apparent that most people in the community lack sufficient knowledge in this area to be of assistance in a crisis?

Most of first aid is common sense; however, misinformation is a huge challenge of my job. For example, there is strong belief that you must never move someone, or tourniquets can kill, or, my pet favourite, it’s illegal for a first-aider to administer drugs. (See our LinkedIn articles for key information on first aid.)

In the martial arts, the learning is focused on self-defence. Some probable outcomes of defending against an attack successfully are that the opponent may be knocked unconscious. Alternatively, as the defender you are also likely to suffer head trauma, even if you achieve the goal of surviving and getting away.

Can you offer some basic advice on what to do in both of these common situations?

Download the App ‘Head Check’, which was developed by the Murdoch Institute in consultation with the AFL. Mainly for kids, it provides a really good way of assessing head injuries and deciding what to do. Secondly, go with you gut, if it looks bad, sounds bad, or feels bad, then it probably is. An example I give is of a woman who was hit by a bus. On examination, she was perfectly fine, but I insisted on transporting her [to hospital]. Why? A bus hit her! Bus was big, woman was small. Bus plus woman at 30km/h equals BAD!

So, to summarise the advice:

1. Always go with your gut: consider the environment, forces involved and treat for the worst-case scenario.
2. If unsure you can call 000, ask advice, and even if an ambulance comes they won’t necessarily transport [the patient] if they feel they don't need to.

Do you do ‘train the trainer’ courses so that martial arts instructors, for example, can get qualified to give lessons to students in essential first aid, for example?

We don’t; all our trainers are experienced emergency service personnel, company medics/paramedics or critical care nurses. However, we do offer tailored course for martial arts centres.

For more information on first-aid training and simulation courses, visit www.realfirstaid.com.au

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