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The City Journals

County’s emergency management team teaches tactical emergency care to Unified Police Department

Feb 10, 2020 02:48PM ● By Kirk Bradford

UPD Magna precinct officers practice applying the SWAT tourniquet wrap on each other. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

At the conclusion of their final course offered to the public, Salt Lake County Emergency Management (SLCEM) trainers invited the City Journals to attend Tactical Emergency Care, a course taught to members of the Unified Police Department (UPD). The course is designed to teach first responders life-saving medical care normally taught to medical responders. 

This training was much more graphic in the language and film when compared to the public courses. In one video, the footage shows officers returning fire at a robbery suspect who is hit multiple times. Officers secure the suspect and weapon, assess the quickly spurting bullet wounds in the leg and chest as life-threatening, and apply a chest seal and double tourniquet to save the man’s life. This all happens in under 30 seconds.

“The mindset of individuals who serve in our law enforcement or first responder units have developed thick skins. It makes sense from the things we see and face day to day,” Emergency Management Trainer Kathy Allen said. “This type of training will be different from the others we’ve covered because we teach people who are already used to seeing violence, trauma or death. It allows us to talk about different aspects of emergency care much more in depth. If it seems emotionless, it’s not. It is just the nature of doing this kind of work well. Taking the emotion out of situations to make the best decisions.”  

Allen began the training by discussing the psychological aspects commonly found between active attack events and mass shootings. Attackers learn from the mistakes made by other attackers. They may pretend to be part of the wounded, try to fit into the groups of victims and avoid detection in various ways. 

The rescue task force (RTF) team has an especially difficult job. They are responsible for neutralizing the shooter in any way necessary, but are also instructed to not stop to provide aid until the shooter has been stopped. Stopping loss of life is critical before providing care. 

The training also covered the mental health of first responders, something not often taught in public courses. Allen was emotional as she spoke about the lack of mental health care for the traumatic things first responders experience. She gave numerous examples of local responders who had committed suicide within the past month. Out of respect for them and their families, those names are not included. 

According to statistical data from the Ruderman Family Foundation, during 2017 the number of suicides by firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officers was 243. The total number who died in the line of duty was 222. “This is a major problem among first responders,” Allen said. “We need to be checking on each other, even further than that. We need to be willing to talk about the things that we see and how it affects us.“ She said we need to get rid of the “suck it up or you are weak” mentality that is normal amongst responders, and to take advantage of the many ways available to seek help. 

Emergency Trainer Curtis Watkins covered the next portion of the training. Watkins covered the use of the chest seals, tourniquets and life-saving tactics they have found useful and others that are not. \Watkins had everyone in attendance experience what it feels like to wear a tourniquet on your arm for 10 minutes. It gives you an idea of how painful they are but also the panic as the pain increases. 

“You may have to handcuff your partner to his belt. There may be a time your partner has been wounded and out of either shock, pain, or a combination of both they will try and loosen the tourniquet a little or just tear it off. Be prepared to handcuff that uninjured hand to their belt to prevent it.” 

Watkins discussed what he considered old-school teachings of tourniquets causing long-term damage after a short time. “When in doubt, apply a tourniquet.” Watkins showed graphic footage of a soldier’s foot destroyed after stepping on a landmine, yet he survived due to a correctly applied tourniquet. He also showed a photo of a man who had been hit by shrapnel. Although he had received massive bodily trauma, he survived due to the multiple tourniquets on many limbs until he received medical care. 

To illustrate the speed at which a body can bleed out, Watkins showed a video of a man being executed in a third-world country. He was shot three times and as he fell in a dirt road, the speed at which he bled out was roughly one minute. Watkins taught the application of chest seals in the torso, an area a tourniquet cannot be applied and also the tools and techniques used to pack a wound. 

Utah has received a large grant that allows Allen and Watkins to train any group that wants to learn how to respond in a disaster situation. “It can be a family, a business, a church, ward, whatever the group. We can arrange and train them without cost because it’s covered by the grant.” 

Jordan School District has already had all of their teachers and staff complete the trainings, and Watkins said they are in the process of setting up training for Herriman teaching staff.

The speed of coordinating emergency care on a large scale like at a school is most effective when relationships among everyone involved have already been established and everyone knows who to contact when emergencies happen. “Jordan School District believes it is important to have interactive relationships with our first responders,” said Lance Everill, emergency operations manager with Jordan School District. “We rely on all of our police, fire and emergency responder agencies to give us their professional input, support, training and advice in advance of an actual crisis situation. Our school district now has a fantastic relationship with Salt Lake County Emergency Management, in addition to our local police and fire departments.” 

In January 2018, SLCEM became involved in conversations with the school district regarding their response to an active attack or critical/traumatic event. Having the grant funding in place, it was affordable for the school to have SLCEM train their personnel on tactical emergency casualty care. “They even advised us on the best trauma care supplies to purchase. Using this information our district purchased 3,200 trauma kits, placing one in every classroom, and over 260 larger kits, placing them in mass gathering areas,” said Everill

The City Journals asked about the realities of an attack at a school or mass shooting. Everill said, “I believe that as the world and critical events continue to evolve, it is incumbent on everyone to evolve with it. The better we can prepare educators, students and citizens to respond during a crisis, the more likely they will be to survive and overcome the incident. Businesses and families can benefit from similar training, since the majority of active attacks are occurring in places of commerce. I feel that families should have age-appropriate, honest conversations with children. They can also reinforce the training that schools are providing, since we all primarily learn how to respond to emergencies as kids in school.  It is important to not only talk about what to do during an emergency, but also about reporting suspicious and concerning behavior in advance of an emergency, such as comments, social media posts, acting out, etc. I think that the only way we are going to get ahead of this attack epidemic is to focus on prevention by reporting and being situationally aware of our surroundings. I personally am spreading the message of not getting lost in your cell phone while out in public. Instead, save it for a known, safe place.”

The SLCEM trainers can be reached by calling Kathy Allen at 801-628-9091 or by email at [email protected], or contacting Curtis Watkins at 801-913-0568 or [email protected]

Watkins stressed the importance of the trainings by showing the City Journals the shooting data from 2019. “There have been 366 active shooters this year (2019), and that is just shootings. Think of all the other possible emergencies like car accidents. You would want to be able to save someone if they were injured and it would be hard to deal with knowing you might have been able to save someone close to you but you didn’t know how.” 

Everill encouraged others to sign up for the trainings. “We're all in this together. Every person has a role to play in this community issue about compassion, communication, prevention, preparation and response.”