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Tactical lifesaving in active shooter incidents

Every law enforcement officer in this country should be trained in tactical lifesaving skills so they can immediately render aid to trauma victims


Article updated on December 18, 2017.

A single man, James Holmes, walks into a movie theater prepared to inflict death and carnage on innocent victims sitting in disbelief as he unleashes his vicious attack. This lone wolf attacker meticulously planned his assault as he tossed smoke or gas devices into the crowded theater, and then fired his 12-gauge shotgun at the ceiling before turning it on the crowd. As panicked movie watchers raced for the exits, he switched to a .40 caliber pistol and a .223 caliber rifle to further his devastating murderous assault.

Then Holmes exited out of the back of the theater and was removing his body armor beside his car when he was confronted by officers who took him into custody.

An Aurora police officer talks on his radio outside the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora (Colo.) on July 20, 2012 during the chaotic response to the mass shooting there. (Photo/AP))
An Aurora police officer talks on his radio outside the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora (Colo.) on July 20, 2012 during the chaotic response to the mass shooting there. (Photo/AP))

This coward left in his violent wake 12 innocents dead and at least 58 others injured at the midnight showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado.

why police officers need combat casualty care training

Police departments are continuously improving active shooter response models. Most police officers get active shooter training and many now carry patrol rifles. It’s common to see a “go-bag” on the passenger floorboard of a police cruiser.

Where law enforcement is still slow to catch up with our military counterparts is combat casualty care. Imagine that this movie theatre was in your town and you were the first responding officer, are you prepared to start treating 58 gunshot wound victims? Do you have the training and first aid equipment needed in such an event?

The fact is most EMS will be overwhelmed during the initial response to this event no matter where you patrol. The active shooter incidents in this country time after time occur in suburban cities and leave mass casualties. We can make a small difference in the survivability of these victims and perhaps our own with some simple training and first aid gear.

Many organizations provide this type of training throughout the country ranging from a single day to a week.

This training isn’t designed to make you a paramedic, tactical medic or any other EMS responder. Tactical life saver training provides every first responder the ability to treat a gunshot victim with some basic life-saving, first-aid tactics “until” paramedics, tactical medics, or other EMS can provide the life-sustaining advanced medical care to keep these innocent victims alive.

the objectives of combat casualty care training

Tactical life saver training should be as routine as first-aid instruction such as CPR and AED that officers receive annually. I am tired of the EMS community saying patrol officers can’t perform these functions. Any person sworn to uphold the laws of this country, trained and graduated from a police academy, is smart enough to be taught how to place a pressure bandage on a gunshot wound.

My six-year-old has helped me apply tourniquets to training simulators while preparing for a course. The fact is that every law enforcement officer in the United States can perform these simple, life-saving tactics to help prolong a victim’s life until advanced medical personnel can take over.

This is proven by the military’s TCCC data. Since training every combat soldier in Tactical Combat Casualty Care, battlefield deaths have significantly decreased. Surely we are just as capable as any military recruit in basic training to learn and perform this skillset.

Many police agencies like mine are providing this training to their officers. However, if not afforded that opportunity, your next option would be to attend a training session from a local police academy or police trainer.

Here are some objectives you will want to ensure the training addresses:

  • Priorities of tactical lifesaver training;
  • How to outfit your “go-bag”;
  • How to conduct remote assessment operations;
  • Officer rescue tactics;
  • Airway management for massive facial and neck injuries;
  • How to manage penetrating chest trauma, such as sucking chest wounds from gun shots;
  • Hemorrhage control;
  • Hemostatic agent use;
  • Tourniquet use;
  • Shock control.

TCCC does not take the place of combat medics, it simply enhances soldiers' ability to minimize battlefield deaths. The same applies for law enforcement, it’s not meant to replace tactical medics, paramedics or EMS, it is meant to provide a chance that an officer can sustain life of a gunshot victim or any other victim for that matter, until advanced treatment arrives.

TCCC not just for active shooter response 

On May 22, 2011, a tornado levels the small town of Joplin, Missouri, home to 50,000 residents.

First responding officers are faced with injured people, dead bodies, walking wounded, trapped victims in buildings, multiple fires and much more. Many police and fire personnel found themselves victims of the tornado as well, which further hampered first aid response.

Police officers and rescue crews dug through piles of splintered houses and crushed cars searching for victims of a half-mile-wide tornado that ultimately killed 162 people when it blasted much of this Missouri town and nearly destroyed its hospital.

You can listen to the first responders and the radio traffic of that incident on-line. Listen for yourself and then ask the question, am I really prepared for such an event?

additional resources

There are many books, training manuals, courses and trainers available on the subject. Below are some recent articles on PoliceOne that discuss the need to train both law enforcement and civilians in how to deliver immediate lifesaving care during an active shooter attack or mass casualty incident:

The necessary equipment will cost you anywhere from $50 to $100 and, in no time, you will be ready to save somebody’s life. The skillset used in tactical life saver training is useful at home, on accident victims and in the outdoors. Make the investment in somebody else’s future and get the training. They will be grateful and you will be prepared.

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