What is the first thing you should do if a person is unconscious and not breathing?
The first thing you should do if you find a collapsed victim who is unconscious and not breathing is to call for emergency medical help and send for the nearest defibrillator.
If you are on your own (a single rescuer) then you will have to make the emergency call yourself. If a bystander or member of the public is present then ask them to call for emergency help. It’s important they inform the emergency services that the victim is unconscious and not breathing as this will alter the speed of the emergency medical response.
Why is calling for help the first step?
Calling for emergency medical help is the first link in the Chain of Survival for victims of cardiac arrest. The image below shows the complete chain of survival.
Accessing emergency medical help is the first link in the chain of survival. Once a cardiac arrest has been recognized, it’s vital to inform emergency medical services.
Call for emergency medical help as soon as possible once you recognize a victim is in cardiac arrest.
After calling for emergency medical help, CPR should be commenced as soon as possible. CPR will ‘buy time’ until the arrival of medical help. Chest compressions will push blood around the body to keep the brain and other vital organs alive.
If an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is available it should be used as soon as possible. An AED can be used by any member of the public, no formal medical training is required as the device will provide clear verbal and visual instructions.
What information should I give the emergency services?
When calling for emergency medical help you should inform the call operator that the victim is unconscious and not breathing. This information will allow the operator to prioritize the call and dispatch the closest available EMS unit. Some areas may also send a community responder or trained volunteer (for example, by using the PulsePoint smartphone application).
You should provide clear instructions on the location of the incident. If you do not know the address then use local landmarks in order to describe the incident location.
How can I learn more?
Sign up for one of our free online CPR training courses in order to learn more about Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and cardiac arrest. Each course is free to complete.