SAMANTHA McKerracher from Grangemouth is just seven, but she was able to use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to save her goldfish after watching a BBC hospital programme. Her mum was about to give Josie the time-honoured ceremonial flush down the lavatory pan when Samantha stepped in and gave the prone fish the kiss of life.

She may have surprised her mother with her expertise, but, as

far as Jim Dorman of St Andrew's Ambulance Association is concerned, children are very capable of carrying out first-aid techniques, from alerting emergency services to saving lives. As association training manager, he is not only encouraging kids to come to classes after school, but in partnership with other major first-aid agencies he plans to put first-aid on the school curriculum.

Unless we know a Samantha, or a child who has helped his diabetic gran when she ''took a turn'', or the toddler who dialled 999 when his mum was having a baby, we can be dismissive of what children can do in the first-aid field. Dorman knows that not only can they play their own vital role, but that they will grow up with essential skills which will never be forgotten. His aim now is to give every child lessons, giving first-aid the same kind of social profile as driving

a car: something nobody likes admitting they can't do.

The St Andrew's Ambulance Association already has a publication aimed specially at youngsters, called simply First-aid: Book for Young People, which uses cartoons and drawings to get over techniques which will help people until they can be given primary or secondary care by health professionals (although sometimes that isn't even necessary for minor incidents). The book pulls no punches. It calls a spade a spade and tells readers how they will know when their patient is dead. Jim Dorman's hope is that in most cases, however, knowledge learned from the association will be of positive help.

Dorman is responsible for all commercial training (companies are required by law to have first-aid experts on the staff) and the development of new courses for the whole of Scotland. In St Andrew's House in Glasgow, there are only 16 days in the year when there are no classes, and classes are run throughout the country. The public can have free taster lessons which may give them the first-aid bug, some local enterprise companies fund community programmes, and there are private classes for the public which can cost up to #30.

The association's mission is for everyone in Scotland to have some knowledge of first-aid. Dorman says: ''We see our ideal target audience being kids.'' Junior courses have been run as extracurricular programmes in some schools, or are incorporated into the curriculum in a health or fitness package. The association also has junior members called Badgers and Cadets who work towards gaining certificates.

Now there is to be a new initiative, the Heartstart UK Scottish School Project, which is a joint strategy for developing emergency life support training programmes in schools. St Andrew's Ambulance Association is collaborating on this with the British Red Cross, the British Heart Foundation, the Health Education Board for Scotland, the Royal Life Saving Society (UK), the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Scottish Consultative Council for the Curriculum, and the Scottish Resuscitation Group.

Dorman says: ''We have put together a strategy paper which we hope to launch in the autumn. We will be lobbying the Scottish Parliament and our view is to get first-aid as part of the school curriculum.''

Grants would be available to schools affiliated to Heartstart for equipment such as resuscitation mannequins. The schools can contact any of the organisations involved, which will move in to support courses.

''In 10 to 15 years, young people will be leaving school committed

to maintaining and updating their first-aid skills,'' Dorman suggests, although right now most of us believe that first-aid is something someone else will do if the need arises. Dorman says: ''The number one thing is you don't know when an accident or emergency will occur. If people don't have the skills, when they come up against an accident or emergency most people wish they did.''

If your mental image of first-aid experts are people of a certain age in uniform patrolling the pitch at football matches, you are missing out on the fact that medical is now cool. The media is responsible for this in a big way, with programmes and articles about illnesses, ailments, and injuries which fascinate the general public. Most people today would like to have a go at some of the techniques they see on TV, just like Samantha McKerracher, or at least to know what to do if the occasion arises.

Dorman says: ''Human nature is how do you solve a problem, and that's where first-aid comes in. First-aid is basically common sense, but our aim is to take people to an established level where they know particular procedures. A lot of our courses are about looking about you and making use of other people to alert emergency services, direct the traffic. Often it is a question of caring for people and comforting them until the emergency services arrive.''

There are ''three Ps'' which are vital in first-aid: to prevent injuries getting worse, to prevent injury to yourself, and promote recovery. Classes can often help dispel old wives' tales and promote best practice. Dorman believes we must also change our attitudes about the capabilities of a child using first-aid. Children may sometimes be physically unable to carry out some first-aid techniques, but could advise an adult on what to do. ''Even a kid knowing what number to dial for an ambulance is a big bonus, but to add on to that some basic skills, even like being able to control an adult and stop a situation getting out of hand, stop someone panicking. A child can stay with a casualty and talk to them while an adult goes for help,'' Dorman says.

He is reassuring that skills once learned will come flooding back in an emergency, but advises that everyone requalifies every three years to bring knowledge up to date. There is so much more awareness now of allergies, for instance, and children and teachers can be informed on what to do if someone is allergic to latex or peanuts. The first-aid agencies are now spreading that knowledge to hotel kitchens, leisure centres, material suppliers, and many others.

The standards set by St Andrew's Association and other Scottish first-aid units are now at the forefront in Europe. The young people who come to classes at the association's headquarters in Milton Street, Glasgow, are learning cutting-edge techniques. Laura McManus, 12, has been going to classes for three years. She says: ''It is interesting to know how to save people's lives whatever the situation.'' She has never come across a situation where she needed to use her skills, but says: ''I'm quite confident that I could.'' Susan Anderson is nearly 15 and is learning first-aid as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Awards, but says: ''My grandfather had a heart attack and that also pushed me to coming here.''

APART from being good fun, she feels it is a very useful thing to learn, and the gory mock-up of what to do if someone's finger was amputated seems to offer just the right level of education and Hammer Horror entertainment. Kenneth Keaney, 11, has four years' classes behind him, can put a sling on with the best of them, and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. ''If something happened, I could handle it,'' he says confidently.

Learning first-aid skills doesn't just give people the ability to help others. Dorman says: ''I can tell you from experience that treating someone who has had an injury or serious illness is a tremendously rewarding experience.'' It is a growing experience, a booster of self-esteem. ''First-aid should be a part of our everyday life,'' Dorman adds. ''It can be as simple as talking to someone till help comes, to saving a life.''