Creating a Protester’s First Aid Kit

STREET PROTESTS CAN EITHER BE LIKE outdoor festivals or combat, depending on what the police choose to do. Whether you’re a protester, activist or organizer, it pays to be prepared, and that means being ready in case the police or soldiers riot.

One of the best ways to be prepared is to have a first aid kit that can provide basic protection and assistance in case a protest becomes “hot.”

There are two basic rules to a protester’s first aid kit: First, it should be compact, lightweight and easy to carry. Your kit should not be an unnecessary burden if you have to suddenly run or otherwise move quickly. The last thing in the world you need to have happen is to find yourself in need of protection from pepper spray and you realize you had to leave your kit three blocks away because it was too heavy.

Second, your kit should be for you, but should also be able to basically assist one other. You should be sure that your kit contains everything you need in case of an emergency (medicines, analgesics, etc.), but you should also have double the amount you might use alone, in case you need to help someone else or you find yourself out on the streets longer than you originally anticipated.

There are three categories of supplies for your first aid kit: 1) essentials, 2) basics, and 3) extras. Depending on the kind of protest you’re going to, and the potential for problems that you might anticipate, you may or may not need all of the items from the second and third categories. You should also be sure to know about all of the conditions you may face (weather, climate, environment) before saying you’re ready, since the essentials and basics for a rainy mid-spring morning in a rural setting requires a different set of supplies than a sunny, hot, late-summer afternoon in downtown.

Be sure to consult the RSS Street Protest Protocols for more information on use and treatment.

  • Water (2 24-oz. sport-top bottles)1
  • Gloves (2 pair, non-latex nitrile or plastic)
  • Gauze (4 sterile or clean, 4×4″ or 3×3″)
  • Band-aids (1 variety box)
  • Tape (1 roll, paper or plastic, no Scotch, duct or electrical)
  • Bandanas (3 in sealable plastic bags)2
  • Prescription Medicines (preferrably in original containers, immediate needs can be carried in a pill fob)3
  • Money (cash is preferred, but a debit/credit card can also be carried)
  • Identification (if you have medical issues, especially)
  • Aspirin and/or ibuprofen (trial size, in original containers)4
  • Benadryl (trial size, in original container)5
  • Rescue Remedy (for shock, trauma or anxiety)
  • Candy or energy bars (4)
  • Rehydration drink mix (Emergen-C, Gatorade)
  • Suncreen (alcohol-based)
  • Roller gauze (8-12′ roll)
  • Antiseptic wipes (12)
  • Maalox or other liquid antacid mixed 1:1 with water (1 24-oz. sport-top bottle)6
  • Mineral oil and rubbing alcohol (in separate bottles)7
  • Pure lemon juice (100-percent real lemon juice, in separate bottle)8
  • Tampons (for nosebleeds)
  • Safety pins (8)
  • Paper and plastic bags (2 each)
  • Pen and notepad (gel pens or other all-surface, all-angle pens preferred)
  • Bandage scissors (blunt-ended, to avoid potential weapons charges)
  • Penlight

NOTE: These elements are more for RSS Street Medics kits, not necessarily individuals (even though having such things could help other street medics running short on supplies).

  • Sam splint
  • Ace bandage
  • Cake icing tube, glucose gel or tablets (for diabetics)
  • Asthma inhaler (Primatine, Proventil HFA)
  • Epi-pen
  • Calendula, St. John’s wort and/or topical arnica
  • Homeopathics (e.g., sulfur, apis)
  • Topical antibiotic ointment
  • Space blanket
  • Clean shirt in a sealed bag
  • EMT shears
  • Mole skin (for blisters)
  • Triangular bandage
  • Cloth sling
  • CPR face shield or mask
  • Instant ice pack
  • Matches or lighter
  • Goggles
  • Tongue depressors (for finger splints)

1. It is recommended to carry two bottles of water: one for your consumption and one for use in case of emergency. If you are going to carry a separate vessel of water for consumption, you only need one in your kit, and it doesn’t need to be completely filled.

2. Of the three bandanas, one is for personal use (to manage perspiration, etc.), one is for use in counteracting the effects of tear gas/pepper spray in the air (more on this below), and one is a spare.

3. If you carry your medicines, you need to make sure you have proof they are yours, in case of arrest. Having the bottles to match against your ID is preferrable. If you do so, however, be sure to keep only a minimal amount in your bottles, leaving the rest at home; some police agencies have been known to “lose” a protester’s medicine as a harassment tactic.

4. Use of aspirin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) should be done with care. There is always a danger of stomach ulcer that can result from taking these medications without food accompaniment. Buffered (enteric-coated) aspirin and ibuprofen is recommended in situations where food cannot be given at the same time.

5. Benadryl is often used as a sleep aid as well as an anti-histamine (allergy medicine). Be sure to inform any person you may provide this to about the potential for drowsiness.

6. Aluminum-hyrdoxide- or magnesium-hydroxide-based antacids, like Maalox, Milk of Magnesia, etc., mixed 1:1 with water provides an excellent eye, nose and mouth flush if you come into contact with pepper spray. Be sure to consult protocols on proper techniques for eye flush before trying on your own.

7. Use of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol as a treatment for pepper spray exposure on the skin should only be done by a trained street medic. Otherwise, use the liquid antacid and water mix to alleviate the immediate irritation.

8. A bandana soaked in pure lemon juice can provide protection to the nose and mouth from vapors associated with pepper spray. If it is apparent that a protest you will be attending will end with the police using pepper spray, you can soak the bandana in advance and keep it sealed in the plastic bag until it is needed.

Other Tips
What Else to Wear:
  • Comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in
  • Clothing which covers most of your skin to protect from sun and pepper spray exposure
  • Shatter-resistant eye protection
  • Weather-related gear (e.g., rain gear, sun hat)
  • Heavy-duty gloves if you plan to handle hot tear gas canisters
  • Fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated)
  • A cap or hat to protect you from the sun and from chemical weapons
What Else to Bring:
  • Lots of water in plastic bottle with squirt or spray top, to drink and to wash off your skin or eyes if needed
  • Energy snacks
  • Just enough money for pay-phone, food, transportation
  • Watch or other timepiece (do not use your cell phone as a substitute)
  • Three days of your prescription medication and doctor’s note in case of arrest
  • Menstrual pads, if needed. Tampons should be left in the first aid kit for nosebleeds.
What Not to Do:
  • Don’t put vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen or moisturizers on skin as they can trap chemicals.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.
  • Don’t wear things which can easily be grabbed (e.g., dangly earrings or other jewelry, ties, loose hair).
  • Don’t go to the protest alone if you can help it. It is best to go in a group with friends who know you well.
  • Don’t forget to sleep, eat, and drink lots of water. No matter how well-rested and prepared we are, we can never really predict what will happen at a protest, how the police will (over-) react, etc., no matter how peaceful we may be.