The Tucson Police Department now has advanced emergency medical kits to provide first aid to victims of a mass casualty incident before emergency medical personnel arrive.
The kits are designed to effectively allow police officers to render first aid and life support on the scene of a mass casualty incident similar to what occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and community members. They compress the time it takes to stabilize injuries before paramedics arrive, according to Capt. David Azuelo, Commander, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, Tucson Police Department.
An interim solution for patient care is necessary because paramedics will not typically enter a scene until police have located and stopped the threat(s), actions that often can take a considerable amount of time given the complexity of these incidents as well as the varying and contrasting information that is often prevalent at the onset of an active shooter type of situation
"Many times fire agencies will not come into a ‘hot zone’ so it is up to law enforcement to not only deal with the threat, but also provide stabilizing first aid to survivors until they can be transitioned to paramedics," Azuelo says. "The mass casualty trauma kits allow officers to bridge the gap by providing immediate first aid during what is often referred to as ‘the golden hour,’ the timeframe that is most critical to patients suffering from traumatic penetrating injuries. It allows a police officer without a tremendous amount of training in advanced medicine the ability to save lives."
"We recognize that a mass casualty shooting event is likely going to be one of the most difficult calls a police officer ever responds to, not just in terms of dealing with the threat, as that is something most officers are well prepared for," he adds. "Rendering aid in a timely manner to numerous severely injured victims is not something most officers deal with on a regular basis, therefore we recognized from a management perspective that we needed to ensure these kits were useful, relevant and not overly complicated for police officers to use. We wanted a patrol-ready, easy-to-use, mass casualty trauma kit that would meet the needs of all of the primary injuries you would find in a mass casualty situation."
Recognizing the need to bridge the gap of time it takes for police officers to transition patients to advanced life support care during an active shooter event, Paramedic Capt. Kristopher Blume, also a tactical medic and the manager of the Metropolitan Medical Response System in Tucson, collaborated with the TSSi company to develop the mass casualty trauma kits for the police department.
The packs, which fit in the trunk of a police sedan, consist of a large nylon case that contains six individual advanced first aid kits, along with additional splints, bandages and trauma blankets. Tucson has eight packs, which cost approximately $3,000 each and were purchased with funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Metropolitan Medical Response System grant program (now defunded). The packs have been distributed to each of the department’s five patrol divisions and to members of the full-time Special Weapons and Tactics Team.
Every officer is certified in basic first aid but the police department is working with the fire department to further refine training specific to the mass casualty trauma kits.
"The packs are the result of awareness of the totality of what was occurring around the nation," Azuelo says. "Mass casualty incidents are nothing new. These types of situations have occurred for decades. Law enforcement has a different mission than fire and paramedics, but we have recognized that we have to come together better because in certain situations unless we can provide aid to those victims, the likelihood of their surviving long enough to get them to paramedics is slim. We need to respond as quickly as we can to get them to paramedics and ultimately to the hospitals."
Updated March 2018
In the five years since this article was originally written, Tucson has moved to equipping every field officer with trauma kits that include two tourniquets, chest seals, quick clot gauze and more. The kits are small enough (6 inches by 8 inches) to be easily carried and Public Information Officer Chris Hawkins says that “not a week goes by that we don’t use them to treat accident or gunshot victims. We’ve been told by the fire department and by the medical staff at the trauma center that there have been several incidents where they’re sure we’ve saved someone’s life.”
Officers receive training on how to use the supplies in the kit, and they are responsible for immediately restocking if they use any of the supplies. Tucson sergeants carry mass casualty bags in their cars, and Hawkins says that fortunately, the department has as yet had no cause to use these bigger, better equipped bags.
“We were one of the first agencies in the country to issue this type of trauma kit and we’ve been really successful in using it to save lives,” Hawkins says.
For more information on the program, contact Officer Chris Hawkins at TPDPIO@tucsonaz.gov.