5 summer emergency tips: what to do and who to call

Posted on 2 December 2020

Ensure you and your family enjoy a safe summer holiday season by being prepared for these common emergencies. The faster you act, the better the outcome.

ER24 first responders share expert advice to help you avoid common summer emergencies.


  1. Road accidents

‘We see a marked spike in traffic volumes before 16 December and then again just before or on 24 December,’ says Lucas Bezuidenhout, paramedic and ER24 Branch Manager for the Bloemfontein, Ladybrand and Ficksburg areas. He suggests planning summer road trip dates carefully and keeping emergency details at hand. ‘Try to keep in mind where you are at all times your location can be relayed to emergency services.’ If you come across an accident scene, don’t stop if you don’t have to. ‘Emergency services may delimit or cordon off accident scenes by means of cones and other barrier devices when needed. Please respect these to keep us and our patients safe.’


  1. Drownings

Whether you’re hitting the beach, pool or dam this summer, there are accidents waiting to happen. If someone is drowning, get them out of the water and onto a flat surface – as long as it’s safe to do so, says Charl Pretorius, ER24 Branch Manager for the Southern Cape region. ‘Check for signs of breathing and a pulse. If they have a pulse and are awake, turn them on their side immediately. If they’re unconscious, call emergency services.’ If there’s no breathing and no pulse, someone needs to start CPR immediately – but Pretorius warns that attempting it if you don’t know what you’re doing could do more harm than good. That’s where the ER24 Contact Centre comes in. ‘The call centre will guide you in how to do CPR over the phone. They’ll tell you exactly what to do until the ambulance arrives on scene.’


  1. Allergic reactions

Severe allergic reactions can easily happen on your summer holiday. If you know you have an allergy, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet and carry an EpiPen, as well as enough of your chronic medication to last the duration of your stay. When travelling internationally, this should be in its original packaging and accompanied by a letter from your doctor. Always check beforehand whether the medication you’re travelling with is permitted in your destination country. First-time allergic reactions can come on suddenly and be extremely dangerous, so it’s important to recognise the signs. ‘For something like a seafood allergy, early signs could be itching and bumps or hives on the body and then the next stage would be difficulty breathing,’ says Pretorius. The best course of action is to keep the person calm and phone an ambulance or get them to the nearest hospital ASAP. ‘An allergic reaction can become serious quickly; e.g. a person can collapse within 10 min of being stung by a bee if emergency treatment is not administered in time.’


  1. Heat stroke

‘Heat stroke is a very serious condition,’ says Enrico Duarte, ER24 Branch Manager: Upington. So it’s important to know the signs: headaches, dry skin, absence of sweating, nausea and vomiting, rapid pulse, dizziness, high body temperature and an altered mental state or strange behaviour. Call ER24 if you spot these. ‘While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, get the person into a well-ventilated area out of the sun and remove any excess clothing,’ advises Duarte. ‘Cool them down by sponging them with cool water, fanning them or placing ice packs or cool towels on their head, neck and armpits and give them cool fluids to drink.’


  1. Be responsible with alcohol

‘We see a noticeable spike in alcohol-related callouts around Christmas and New Year and the days leading up to them,’ says Etienne le Roux, ER24 Emergency Care Practitioner in the East Metropole area. ‘These are mainly trauma-related, like motor vehicle accidents. Some of the drownings we respond to are alcohol-related as well.’ The other danger is alcohol poisoning. ‘As with most conditions, there’s a spectrum – depending on the severity of the poisoning. Many of the signs are what you’d expect to find in someone who’s had too much to drink, such as slurred speech, confusion, poor coordination, nausea and vomiting and lethargy. In more serious cases, the person may actually be unconscious, breathing slowly or shallowly and appear pale. There’s also a potential for seizures.’ If the person has passed out, position them on their side and if possible support their head with something soft. ‘The biggest concern we have for these patients is their ability (or inability) to protect their own airway,’ he says. ‘The goal is to allow any contents in the mouth to passively drain or fall out and away from the lungs. However, avoid using your fingers to remove anything from inside the mouth as this may result in it being pushed deeper in.’ If you have a blanket or jacket handy, you can cover the person, as they may also be at risk for hypothermia, especially if they’ve been unconscious for a long time.


‘Always consider your own safety before approaching the scene of an emergency,’ cautions Le Roux. ‘And call an ambulance. We can assist with any emergency – just phone 084 124.’




Published in Emergency

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