Some Thoughts On The ICE Usage

By Tom Kiurski

Cell phones are a way of life nowadays, keeping us in contact with our world while on the go with the touch of a button. In an emergency, firefighters and paramedics may find a patient who is unable to talk. If the patient’s cell phone is nearby, it probably contains the number of someone to call who could provide medical information about the patient. But which number is the right one?

You might think we could simply call the number listed under “mom,” but if mom is elderly and in a diminished state, she may not be the best person to call. Rarely does anyone label a contact as “husband,” “wife” or “spouse” on a cell phone; they enter the person’s name, along with many other name entries. Searching for the right number through trial and error can use valuable time … time the patient may not have. Using ICE may help avoid this situation.

There is a lot of buzz about using ICE on cell phones. If you are not familiar with the concept, ICE is an acronym that stands for In Case of Emergency. As the name implies, using the ICE acronym as part of the information in your cell phone’s internal phone book can provide a valuable list of people to contact in case of an emergency.

Suppose you are unconscious after a car crash and are unable to give information to paramedics on the scene. If you’ve set up contacts using the ICE designation, first responders can quickly check the contacts in your cell phone and find the appropriate number to call to get vital medical information. You can designate more than one contact by labeling them as ICE1 – Nancy, ICE2 – Steve and so on.

The program started in England and has spread to the United States via the Internet. The ability to quickly reach ICE-designated contacts proved to be a major asset during the recent bombings in London. With more than 193 million cell phone users in the United States, the ICE program has the potential to provide quick access to emergency information for a huge portion of the country’s population.

Obviously, the first step toward a workable program is getting the ICE contacts programmed into phones. ICE is a free program, and can easily be entered into any cell phone right now. Individuals wishing to make these designations should be sure the contacts know they are being designated, and should inform the contact of any pertinent medical history, current medications and drug allergies.

While the program can potentially provide invaluable information in the treatment of emergencies, it can also be useless to responders if the contact has not been informed of changes to a person’s medical condition, if the phone’s features have been password-protected by the user, or if rescuers find one phone on the floor of a car with four injured occupants.

Another potential problem could be a criminal gaining access to a person’s phone and using the emergency pretext to get an ICE contact to vacate the home, thereby leaving it unoccupied and open to burglary.

There are also other means available to provide identification and medical information to emergency teams. Two such pieces of identification include a small card, mainly for children, which provides information on how to contact parents or guardians. The card can be given to the child’s school, daycare center, babysitter, grandparents, or can be inserted in the child’s backpack.

A longer card is meant mainly for the elderly, those with serious medical conditions, and those who take many different medications. The card can be filled out and put into a wallet or purse, left on a kitchen counter, or put on the refrigerator. A photo identification, such as a driver’s license is useful, and medical insurance cards or information is also helpful.

Hopefully, this article has started you thinking about how you would want to handle the topic of “ICE” when it comes up at your next speaking engagement. Review ICE procedures with your firefighters and then send the information out to your citizens via your local newspaper, or any other manner you deem appropriate. Feel free to use information from this article.

Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

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