The medical fraternity use acronyms a lot, first aid courses less thankfully. The most important one we teach on first aid courses is D.R.A.B.C.D.

DRABC has always been taught in one form or the other. When I did my 1st first aid course it was ABC, then DR ABC and today with the advent of automated external defibrillators, a “D” has been added.

Why do we teach it and why is it important to know? It is the default you may need to return to if an incident worsens.

Here’s an example. You are asked to attend a colleague who’s in the canteen. They’ve started to eat their lunch when they stand up and start aggressively coughing. When you arrive at the scene you’re presented with a person, red faced, eyes watering and holding their throat. This is mild choking – as a trained first aider you would know to commence back thrusts and abdominal thrusts. If the choke gets worse and the casualty becomes “limp” in your arms the choke has become more serious and is a severe choke. This is where you default to DRABC – so let me explain the individual elements to you, as it gives you the next step in helping.

D. Stands for Danger. Is it safe for you to proceed? You will need to make a quick personal risk assessment of the scene. And don’t forget, put your nitrile gloves on.

R. Stands for Response. Can you get any response from the casualty and are they showing any motor skills? Talk to them, tap them on the collarbone, tickle the ears (which are sensitive).

A. Stands for Airway. Open the casualty’s airway using the head tilt chin lift or a pistol grip.

B. Stands for Breathing. You need to determine if the casualty breathing? After opening the airway, place you head down close to casualty so you can listen for breathing and feel their breath. At the same time look down the casualty to see if the chest or stomach is moving. If there’s no breathing, there’s no heartbeat or circulation.

C. Stands for Call 999/112. Start chest compressions immediately. This will pump blood around the casualty’s body, which will have some oxygen remaining in it. Remember it is most important that the emergency are called as soon as possible.

D. Stands for Defibrillation. If there’s anybody at the scene you should ask them to find a defibrillator. When it arrives, stop everything, unpack it, place the pads on the chest as shown on the pads, turn the machine on and listen to the voice commands. You do not need training to use a defibrillator.

There are a few other things to consider.

If you must leave the casualty for any reason, place them in the recovery position. If they regain consciousness and are sick while lying on their backs, they could choke on their own vomit. By placing them in the recovery position they can exhaust anything in their throat or mouth.

Agonal breathing. Just after somebody has suffered a cardiac arrest, they may make a breathing sound like slow noisy gasps. This is not considered to be normal breathing so commence chest compressions.

DRABC is the core of life saving first aid skills. Don’t forget, situations change and are fluid, you must be prepared to be flexible in your treatment.

DRABC is just one of many skills I pass on to my students. If you want to know more as first aid training is still available even through Covid lockdown. Please email me on or call 07770 376 497 for more advice, information or booking.

Like all my blogs, I’m happy for you to pass the information on to others. The more people are trained, the safer we will all be! Kim Ronaldson – First Aid Instructor.

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