It’s a scary event. Seeing your child in distress, not breathing, turning a different color. As a First Responder (Police, Firefighter, Ambulance), we dread those critical pediatric calls.

You can ask any First Responder that runs any 911 calls involving children is a high stress event. Our heart rate goes up and we jump on the accelerator pedal a little faster.

You see, when kids run into problems, it can go from bad to worse in matter of minutes. Time is of the utmost essence if we want any chance of saving the child.

I’m sure I can speak for most First Responders out there who are parents. After running calls involving children, you just want to go home and hug your children and never let go. Unfortunately, we cannot save every child. It tears me up every time I have to say that. There are many situations that we cannot control, but simply we don’t have the power to save everyone.

In my 20 years of responding to 911 calls, I have found in most cases involving children who are choking that prevention is the key.  This is so important but it’s not always at the forefront of parent’s minds a lot of times.

When I get 911 calls for a choking child, in a majority of the cases the parent already has been able to clear the choking hazard. What it all boils down to is that the vast majority will “ GIT-R-DONE” when it comes their distressed child.

It is the most amazing sound to hear a child crying when I arrive on scene of these calls. When your child is crying, it means that their airway is clear, and they are not in distress. When a child is really sick, they get quiet….”scaryingly” quiet.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For all the history buffs out there, This quote was made by Benjamin Franklin in 1735 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In that article, he was mentioning the importance of fire prevention, but the same holds true in this situation. There are little things that we can do to prevent the occurrence of choking.

Here are few precautions and prevention items (“Department of Health”):

  • Never leave a small child unattended while eating. Direct supervision is necessary.
  • Children should sit up straight when eating, should have sufficient number of teeth, and the muscular and developmental ability needed to chew and swallow the foods chosen. Remember, not all children will be at the same developmental level. Children with special health care needs are especially vulnerable to choking risks.
  • Children should have a calm, unhurried meal and snack time.
  • Children should not eat when walking, riding in a car or playing.
  • Cut foods into small pieces, removing seeds and pits. Cook or steam vegetables to soften their texture. Cut hot dogs lengthwise and widthwise.
  • Model safe eating habits and chew food thoroughly.
  • Offer plenty of liquids to children when eating, but solids and liquids should not be swallowed at the same time. Offer liquids between mouthfuls.
  • Use only a small amount of peanut butter when the child is ready and use with jelly, or cream cheese on whole grain breads (Remember peanut butter can stick to the roof of a child’s mouth and form a glob.)
  • Think of shape, size, consistency, and combinations of these when choosing foods.
  • Pay particular attention to those foods, toys and household hazards mentioned that pose choking hazards to ensure child safety.

 Here’s a longer list of common choking hazards (“Department of Health”):


  • Hot dogs (especially cut into a coin shape), meats, sausages, and fish with bones
  • Popcorn, chips, pretzel nuggets, and snack foods
  • Candy (especially hard or sticky candy), cough drops, gum, lollipops, marshmallows, caramels, hard candies, and jelly beans
  • Whole grapes, raw vegetables, raw peas, fruits, fruits with skins, seeds, carrots, celery, and cherries
  • Dried fruits, sunflower seeds, all nuts, including peanuts
  • Peanut butter, (especially in spoonfuls or with soft white bread)
  • Ice cubes and cheese cubes
  • Foods that clump, are sticky or slippery, or dry and hard textured
  • Food size and shape, especially round, or a shape that could conform to the shape and size of the trachea (windpipe). The size of a young child’s trachea (windpipe) or breathing tube is approximately the size of a drinking straw in diameter.
  • Combinations of food size, texture, and shape can pose threat. For example, a slippery hard candy with a round shape about the size of a drinking straw could block an airway (windpipe)

Household Items/Toys:

  • Latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, small balls, pen or marker caps, button type batteries, medicine syringes, screws, stuffing from a bean bag chair, rings, earrings, crayons, erasers, staples, safety pins, small stones, tiny figures, and holiday decorations including tinsel, or ornaments and lights
  • Any toy or other object that is labeled as a potential choking hazard

I hope this helps all parents out there to help keep our kids safe. Also, If you ever feel uncomfortable or your parent “spidey senses” are tingling please call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency room.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting yourself into a CPR/First aid class. No amount of reading will replace hands-on training you will receive in those classes. These classes are held regularly in your local community. Here are some national resources to locate a class nearby.

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About the Author:

Dave Nguyen, Co-Founder of PreparaKit, is a 20-year veteran Fire Captain/Paramedic in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has attained  a BS Degree in Kinesiology, or an AS Degree in Fire Science. He was a former Fire and EMS Training Officer and Paramedic Program Coordinator and currently holds instructor certifications for Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support, CPR/AED for Adult and Pediatrics.


Disclaimer: All the content in the article, including medical opinion and any other health information is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Always seek the advice of your doctor.


Works Cited

Persistent Asthma Prevalence for the Medicaid Managed Care Population in New York State, 2013,

American Health And Safety Institute, Basic First Aid (Vol. 8.0, Student Edition). (2016). Eugune, OR: Health And Safety Institute.