Basic life support (BLS) training includes learning to provide medical interventions for airway maintenance, circulation maintenance, the performance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), the splinting of fractured bones and the handling of spinal cord injuries. Assessment of medical, cardiac and trauma patients; handling of poisoning and overdose emergencies; management of diabetic emergencies; care for patients who have an altered mental status; and the handling of soft tissue injuries are also covered in BLS training. Students in BLS training must learn to intervene in emergencies involving obstetrics and gynecology, severe allergic reactions, acute abdominal problems and environmental emergencies. Other skills gained in BLS training include learning to lift and move patients without causing injury, gather a medical history, practice general pharmacology, handle behavioral emergencies, respond to terrorism and operate the various types of ambulances and emergency medical equipment.
BLS training differs slightly from place to place, but all students typically acquire the aforementioned skills to provide pre-hospital care to one of three types of patients: medical, cardiac and trauma. Each broad area of training can be divided into more specific areas. For example, training to handle respiratory emergencies and the maintenance of an airway involves learning how to work with equipment such as airway adjuncts, a bag-valve mask (BVM), suctioning equipment and oxygen cylinders. It also involves learning about the dangers of suctioning, the potential dangers associated with the use of nasopharyngeal airways and the two maneuvers used to open a patient's airway.
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) of all levels, paramedics, paramedic specialists and critical care paramedics generally take BLS training to be able to work on an ambulance, sometimes called a "rig." These healthcare providers not only learn basic life support, they also learn how to assist in advanced life support (ALS). Among the skills that this area of BLS training covers are helping to prepare a patient for intubation, applying electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes, assisting in intravenous (IV) therapy and assisting with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BIPAP). Depending on the ambulance company or hospital for which the medic works, he or she might also receive training to operate and maintain the ambulance.
The fact that EMTs and paramedics can be the target of domestic violence and terrorism calls for the need to be trained to perform what is known as a scene size-up for their own safety. Environmental emergencies cannot be separated from training to recognize hazardous materials and hazards in nature when working in areas of downed power lines, flooding, fire and other dangerous conditions. Medics typically are trained to perform triage to enable them to efficiently handle a multiple casualty incident, during which rescuers must deviate from their normal procedures to attend to the lives that have the best chances of survival. Body substance isolation training is also emphasized in BLS training to help the medic protect himself or herself from the many diseases to which healthcare providers are exposed.