Survival and the Rule of 3's

 “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin

Thankfully survival situations are uncommon.  Because these situations are so uncommon, however, when confronted with a survival situation, we often find ourselves woefully unprepared.  Some of us have had formal survival training through Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts/military/Wilderness Medicine courses.  Many of us, however, have had to rely on the Air Care & Mobile Care training sessions or maybe even what we see on Survivorman or other such TV shows.  Some of us may hope just being near Dr. Mel Otten has allowed us to glean the crucial bits of knowledge we may need.

In the video embedded below, Dr. Otten goes over some of the basic tenets of survival and goes through the equipment in the survival bag on the helicopter.  The tenets of survival he covers are the bare basics of what you may need to know.  As he points out, survival skills are like most other skills - success is born from practice.  Watch the video, take some of its lessons and put them into practice at home, the next time you’re camping, or at the next Air Care & Mobile Care survival training session.

One of the key lessons from the video is the importance of establishing priorities based on life-threats.

Remembered by the rule of 3’s, you can live:

  • 3 minutes without oxygen
  • 3 hours without warmth
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

From this easy to remember rule of thumb, you can quickly see priority number 1 is going to be getting to a safe spot (out of water, away from burning wreckage, away from smoke).  When exiting the helicopter, remember to wait for the rotor blades to stop, keep low and head out in along the 3 or 9 o’clock position, meeting your crew at the 12 o’clock position in relation to the helicopter (see Keep Calm and Don’t Walk into the Tail Rotor).

Priority 2, keeping warm, starts with wearing proper clothing for the conditions.  Check the weather before you go in on a shift to see how cold/warm/wet/snowy it’ll be.  Avoid cotton and learn to love wool or the other synthetic blends that are on the market for layering under your flight suit.  Other skills critical to keep warm include knowing how to build a fire in a variety of weather conditions and how to build a shelter with the equipment available to you.  Again, these are skills born of practice.

You can often avoid having to figure out finding food and water by getting rescued.  As such, signaling rescuers should be your third priority.  In the video, Dr. Otten describes a number of tools at your disposal for signaling including flares, a signaling mirror, a whistle, and the reflective blankets in the survival kit.  Staying near (but a safe distance from) the helicopter offers you the best chance of being found.

The key takeaway is that these skills are just as important as learning to do a perimortem c-section, a needle cric, or a bougie-aided cricothyrotomy.  We hope for ourselves and our patients we never need to use these skills outside of simulation and practice but it doesn’t make practicing those skills any less important or necessary.