Your EMT Bags can make You...
or break your back

EMT Trauma Bags

EMT bags you carry has been in development since medics rushed on the field of battle. They all have the same two problems; one - they hold way too much stuff and two - you can not always find what you want when you want it. Here is a picture of a WWII kit.

World War II medical kit

Since WWII we have added flaps, zippers and pockets. Now we still can't find stuff but we're better organized. What I have found is that stocking and organizing your EMT bags is a lot like sorting your sock drawer. It's very personal and you never really figure out what somebody else did.

When selecting an EMT bag you need to consider four things:

  • Purpose
  • Weight
  • Bulk
  • Organization

What is the purpose of your bag? Over the years I have carried many different types of bags for many different purposes. When I was responding as the supervisor to calls I carried a limited bag I called a First-In bag. In my first in bag I carried:

Oxygen D-Cylinder with regulator attached

Adult & Pediatric Non-Rebreather O2 Masks

Adult & Pediatric Nasal Cannula

Assortment of oral and nasal airways

Adult BVM


Adult BP cuff


Assortment of 4x4 dressings, 6x9 dressings, multi-trauma dressing

Tape, lots of tape

Nitrile gloves - large

Kling roller bandages


shears and scissors



You can see that this basic kit had quite a bit of stuff. It weighed in at about 15 pounds at one point. The purpose of the kit was to help maintain an open airway and/or to stop bleeding until the ambulance arrived with more equipment. Over time some junk crept in. We had ring cutters, a KTD traction splint, instant glucose tubes, KY Jelly, tongue depressors, bit sticks, and somethings I wasn't able to identify. Overtime the purpose of the bag became more of a general kit rather than to treat problems of ABC.

Over time that First-In bag got to weigh about 15 pounds (7 Kg). If you are used to walking from the ambulance into a two story residential dwelling then the weight is not too bad. My first job as an EMT was in a poor section of a large eastern city. Many 3 and 4 story walk-ups. No elevators. This meant that I had to carry all my equipment up (bags, reeves, stair chairs, etc.) Weight was a real issue. After only a few calls each day I could swear that my bag was gaining weight.

To get more organized we added more pockets, dividers and flaps to our kits. This helped but made the EMT bags become bulkier. Some of our bags were as wide as they were tall and still weighed in at 15 pounds. Many times when walking down narrow hallways we would knock pictures off the wall with our bags. Not too good for public relations.

Consider breaking your bags down to more manageable sizes. My first-in kit which had become a general purpose bag over time was broken down to an ABC bag, a bandage bag and a pediatric bag. This cut down on the bulkiness and actually gave me some more organization.

When we first started carrying stuff in bags, it would almost always turn out that what we needed the most was a the bottom of the bag. To get to the ring-cutter we would have to dump most of the stuff out. Now EMT bags have pockets, zippered compartments and dividers. what I like is to have one large compartment in the center of the bag to store bulky items. It seems to be a law of physics that the lighter, bulkier items will "Float" to the top of the bag and the heavier items sink to the bottom. Put all the same density material together. Put your most frequently used items on the outside of the bag in pockets.

If you use a bag that has oxygen tanks, choose a design that lets you close the bag but still have access to the regulator, liter-flow valve and main valve. Look to have straps so you can sling the bag over your shoulder or hook to the back of a stair chair. One bag I had used to have backpack like straps. I could put the bag over both shoulders to leave my hands free.

Color Coding
Color coding your bags can also help you organize your gear. What I have adopted is the following color codes:

Blue bags for me are for First-In equipment with mostly adult-sized equipment. Most gear manufactured today has this EMS blue color as an option.

Red bags are for first-on equipment with mostly pediatric-sized equipment

Green bags are specialty bags. I use them for firefighter rehab. I keep several sets of BP cuffs and stethoscopes. I also keep cold pack, hot pack and instant sports drink powder.

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