First Aid at Festivals, AND BEYOND

It freaked me out that one day, somewhere, something could happen and my ignorance of even basic first aid would mean that I wouldn’t know what to do. I’d panic, the adrenaline would run, and I imagine I’d be totally useless.

So, when the opportunity to do a first aid course came round, I said yes. I went to the Adult First Aid course at the British Red Cross in Portsmouth for four hours to learn as much as possible.

first aid at festivals

A week later I was listening to Ray Mears’ talk at the Atlas Festival, and he spent a good 20 minutes talking about how important first aid is, and how he makes all his film crew and anyone going on an expedition with him take a course. As he says, knowing how to act in a time where first aid is needed, can SAVE A LIFE.

So that’s me, Ray Mears, and the Red Cross who think it’s super important – what further inspiration do you need?

What we covered

  • Burns
  • Bleeds
  • Choking
  • Broken bones
  • Head injuries
  • Strains and sprains
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsive and breathing / not breathing
  • Allergic reactions
  • Diabetic emergencies
  • Heart Attacks
  • Strokes

Top 5 learnings

I learnt a lot in the four hours – actually couldn’t believe how quickly the time went. If you want any further information, and I’d recommend you take a look, check out the Red Cross website for details of courses and online tutorials. But for now, here are the top 5 learnings that stuck in my head from the day, and could be the most use at festivals.

1. Helping someone who’s unresponsive and not breathing

If you find someone who’s collapsed and isn’t responding to you, check their breathing by tilting their head back and looking and feeling for breaths. If they’re not breathing, get someone to call 999 straight away and start giving chest compressions by pushing firmly downwards on their chest and releasing, at a rate of two compressions per second.

You don’t need to give rescue breaths (mouth to mouth), but if there’s a public defibrillator nearby, ask someone to get it for you. Keep giving them chest compressions until help arrives.

On that note, did you know that every Asda has a defibrillator? These are the machines that can restart someone’s heart by giving them electric shocks. They’re called AEDs – Automated External Defibrillators and they’re also at most train and tube stations too. Anyone can use one, you don’t need any special training.

If you need to use the defibrillator, take it to the person, stick the pads where the illustration on the pads shows and the machine will tell you what to do. It’s amazing – you can watch the video above for more info. Most festivals will have a first aid provider, however – often the Red Cross – who will have defibrillators, and they’ll know exactly how to use them.

READ MORE: Skills Training Group are an award-winning provider of first aid courses. They’re also rated 5 stars on Trustpilot – check them out for more info.

2. How to look after a burn

First Aid at festivals

When you burn yourself, the burn keeps on burning. Think about when you take meat out of the oven to ‘let it rest’ – it keeps on cooking in its juices right? Well that’s exactly what happens to you.

So if someone burns themselves badly – I’m thinking camp fires, poi, pyrotechnics – you need to run the burn under cold water for at least 10 minutes then cover it in cling film. No cling film? Use a clean plastic bag. Stay away from cotton wool, as it can stick to the skin and cause further damage.

If it’s a bad burn it’s also really important to get medical advice as soon as possible. If you’re at a festival get to the medical tent asap.

3. Helping someone who’s unresponsive and breathing

If someone’s not moving and doesn’t respond to you when you gently shake their shoulders and call their name, check if they’re breathing. You can check by tilting their head back and looking and feeling for breaths on your cheek. If they’re breathing, move them onto their side, tilt their head back and call 999 immediately.

People drink too much at festivals, they pass out, and even if they’re only sick a little, it can be a big problem. The simple act of rolling an unresponsive person who is breathing on their side and tilting their head back to open their airway saves lives. By putting someone on their side with their head back, you’re keeping their airway open by making sure their tongue falls forward and any liquid (including sick) can drain out.

One of the problems with this is if your friend is bigger than you, and possibly a dead weight from a few too many ciders too. What you need to do is bend their leg up from flat, so it’s bent, and stretch their arm out. Then you can simply push the bent leg over the straight one and gravity will pull them down onto their side.

4. Seizures and what to do

Thankfully, or luckily, might be a better word, I’ve never had a seizure, or seen anyone have one. First step is to work out if the person is actually having a seizure in the first place.

Signs include: the person may have collapsed, they may be making sudden jerky movements and may also have froth around their mouth.

Number one rule: do not restrain them.

Instead, put something soft under their head – if you don’t have a blanket then a hoody or a trainer will do – and then let them see it through. You need to establish whether this is a normal thing for the person (eg, they have epilepsy) ASAP. If not, or if in doubt, call an ambulance and medical help.

Anything could happen at a festival that might trigger a seizure – lights, drugs, alcohol, tiredness – so I think this is a really important one to remember.

5. How to help with a heart attack

When I went to Glastonbury in 2011 Christopher Shale, a senior Conservative, was found dead in a toilet, at least 12 hours after a heart attack. This story has always stayed with me – what a horrible place to die, and with no help. Sarah, our Red Cross trainer, said that sometimes, what people do when they’re suffering a heart attack, is go off to a room or toilet by themselves because they’re not feeling too good, and then they have no one to keep an eye on them or no one to call to when they need them, and so no access to medical help.

This is the absolute worst thing to do.

If someone’s having a heart attack they might have a persistent, vice-like chest pain, which may spread to their arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heart attack call 999 immediately and make them as comfortable as possible. Sit them down, preferably on the floor, leaning against a wall or chair and try to calm and reassure them.

The Bystander Effect

One of the most interesting aspects of the course, and disturbing, was learning about the Bystander Effect.

“The Bystander Effect: a phenomenon where a person or a group of people don’t act and walk by in an emergency”.

Diffusion of responsibility is one of the causes of the bystander effect. The more people who are present the less likely it is that anyone will take action. This is due to the belief that other people present will do something, or there is likely to be someone more qualified around. If one person steps in, often other people will do too.

Sarah played a video showing a man dressed scruffily sprawled out and looking ill on the steps at London Liverpool Street Station. Hundreds of people must’ve gone past but it took 20 minutes for someone to stop and help, and then others joined. The same man, in the same spot, but dressed in a suit took 4 seconds to find someone who cared enough to stop. Three learnings from that; dress smart every time you leave the house, people are more likely to help someone they identify with, or feel a connection, and most importantly, be the one to make the first move if you see someone else needing help.

How you can join a course

Festival First Aid

I thought the course was great – well structured, interesting and obviously, I hope I never have to use any of what I’ve learnt, but I feel a lot more confident if I do. If you don’t have time to join a course, at least watch all these videos below. And you can download the Red Cross First Aid app to your phone too. It works offline and has step by step videos and information to help.

[red_box box_bg_color=”#ededb6″ box_text_color=”#000″ content_width=”1140px” padding_sides=”30″ padding_top_bottom=”10″ content_align=”center” ] The Red Cross First Aid course cost £40 and you can check for one near you here. It was four hours plus a 30-minute break for lunch. I was invited along in return for writing about it on my blog.[/red_box]


  1. What a brilliant and informative post with added videos. First aid can be so important and vital like you say. I have been on many courses for various work placements but it can be hard to remember everything if you don’t use so I would recommend regular refreshers. Thanks for highlighting this as so important. Good old Ray Mears too!

    1. No worries! Yeah, Ray Mears was well into it. Felt like a strong coincidence after I’d just done the course but maybe it was just cementing the importance of First Aid. I’m glad I did the course of course, but you can also stand to learn a lot from all the materials online. I’d definitely recommend checking them out when you have some spare time. Freaks me out a bit that one day the knowledge could save a life!

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