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April 09, 2008
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Shot doesn't always equal dead

By Dick Fairburn

Well, it happened. Hopefully, you prepared yourself for this eventuality and realized it could happen someday. The dude turned around with a gun in his hand and you were just in your first gunfight ... you've seen the elephant. Even worse, since Murphy's Law is a frequent companion in law enforcement, you got shot. Ok, we'll get through this, stick with me ... access the "Oh shit! I just got shot!" checklist you pre-programmed on your hard drive and we'll run this by the numbers.

Help will come. AP Photo/ Devin Bruce

1. Finish the fight! Getting hit was always a possibility, so don't quit yet. Make sure the bad guy is no longer a threat. If he's down, watch him. If he's still moving and a possible threat, hit him again (repeat as needed until the threat is eliminated).

2. Stay ready! Wolves often run in packs, be alert for any friends the dude had nearby. Check your weapon — clear any malfunctions and reload it, just in case. Break your tendency for tunnel vision and scan 360 degrees. Get to a position of cover if you haven't done so already. That's COVER, not concealment.

3. Call for help! Take a couple of deep breaths, then radio in something simple and direct, like ..."Shots fired, officer down at [insert location]." Forget the secret codes, just say it plain and clear. Once you get confirmation the cavalry is on the way, ignore the radio and continue the checklist.

4. Check yourself! Hopefully, you were wearing your body armor, only fools go without it these days. Hits on the armor may hurt like hell, but it's only a bruise. Hits off the armor are a more serious matter — find them quickly. Muscle hits may not hurt much and may not even bleed much right away due to vasoconstriction caused by stress. If it hurts like hell, the bullet probably hit a bone. Bones heal. Head wounds bleed — a lot! But, if you're conscious enough to notice the blood, your head wound is probably not life threatening. Any serious bullet whack to the head would put your lights out.

5. Treat yourself! As you calm down, the bleeding will get worse, so apply direct pressure the best you can. Better yet, get that big battle dressing you bought with your own money because the department wouldn't supply them. If the dressing is the new kind with built-in clotting agent, better still. Twist the battle dressing on tight. Now twist it tighter. Perform tactical breathing — deep, slow breaths in through your nose and deep, slow breaths out through your mouth. Stay alert! Return focus to your radio, in case arriving units need further directions.

By pre-programming a checklist for gunshot survival and refreshing yourself on it regularly, you can fight through the stress and panic you will experience and greatly improve your odds of survival. This is a technique you must train YOURSELF. Few firearms training programs include a block of instruction on getting shot. We tend to think it will never happen to us. Well, it may happen, so prepare yourself.

Most police officers work in areas where the response to a “Shots fired, officer down!” call will be both swift and large. Paramedics will probably be on-scene in a matter of a very few minutes. Remember the statistics, if you're still alive when the medics arrive you'll have a better than 90 percent chance of survival.

Where I grew up and patrolled — in redneck country — this is what we call a “Y'all come!” kind of call. And, you can bet your butt they'll all be coming, but it may take a little longer out in the sticks. Hang in there. Keep up your tactical breathing as needed to lower your pulse and stress level. Talk to the responding backup units if necessary to keep your spirits up. Make it personal. Convince yourself you're not gonna give that bastard the satisfaction of killing you!

Remember a lesson taught by LTC Dave Grossman. You have about 10 pints of blood in your system and you can loose about 40 percent and still be conscious. That's almost a 2 liter bottle of strawberry soda pop. Pour one out sometime and see how big a puddle 2 Liters of strawberry pop makes. It's a big puddle. If you haven't bled that much, you're still good. If you're still bleeding a lot, add a second battle dressing and crank it down TIGHT! Breathe. Hang in there, they're coming!

Trainers, add this block of instruction to your program and refresh it regularly. Get basic self-life support instructions from paramedics and/or TEMS medics and pass it along to your troops. Understand that this CAN and WILL happen someday to someone you train, so prepare them to take hits and survive. Don't EVER let an officer quit during scenario-based training. No matter how many paint bullets they suck up, make them keep shooting and reloading (including one-hand, weak-hand shooting and reloading drills).

Supervisors, make your people wear body armor. If your department mandates body armor, enforce the mandate. If your department doesn't mandate body armor, lobby for the policy and preach incessantly to your people until you get the policy. And, most of all supervisors, set the example by wearing your body armor — EVERYDAY — even when it's hot. Don't tell 'em, show 'em!

Body armor doesn't give 100 percent protection, but it covers your torso from most directions and has saved thousands of lives. Remember what my friend Lt. Bill Black of Littleton, Colorado says: “ALL chest wounds suck!” Lt. Black played a key roll that awful day at Columbine High School. He's been there and he knows!

Then supervisors, lobby your agency to issue battle dressings. They cost about $6 dollars each. If the department won't spring for the dressings, buy each of your officers one for Christmas. Nothing says "I love you" like a battle dressing!


About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn





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