We tell the attendees of each Below 100 program the unfortunate truth: We will never be able to prevent all line-of-duty deaths and injuries. There will always be circumstances beyond our control that will result in officer deaths and injuries. Some injuries will be unsurvivable based on their severity, and some officers may not be prepared with life-saving equipment or tactics to aid themselves following an injury. However, those are not sufficient reasons to ignore the importance of self-aid skills and equipment. Self-aid is already saving lives, but officers must prepare before a critical incident.
Suffering a serious injury can leave the unprepared officer frantic and unable to react appropriately to save his or her own life. Before you suffer a serious injury, there are many questions you need to ask yourself as part of the larger question: “What’s Important Now?”
First, are you mentally and physically prepared in the event you sustain an injury? Mental preparation is necessary to win the fight, especially if you are dealing with an injury in the line of duty. The prepared mind will help you stay calm and make good decisions that you have rehearsed thousands of times. Being in good physical condition will help you win the fight more quickly, withstand more injury, fight in spite of any pain or disability and recover faster from injuries in the aftermath.
Check your gear regularly to ensure it is still present and undamaged. Are your tourniquets and pressure dressings readily accessible when and where you’ll need them? If you carry clotting agents, check to make sure they’re not expired; they typically have a five-year shelf life. Do you carry an emergency information card on your person that provides details of your medical history, allergies and regular medications? If so, do your fellow officers know where to find that information? I laminate mine and keep it in the trauma plate pocket of my body armor. All my co-workers know to find it there. When was the last time you practiced with your tourniquets or pressure dressings? Just a few repetitions at the beginning of each shift could add up to hundreds in the course of a year. Find additional training opportunities and incorporate self-aid skills into other training topics. Make this a discussion topic at briefing so that the process is not a distant memory.
If your agency doesn’t issue tourniquets and pressure dressings, purchase them yourself. Quality combat-proven tourniquets cost around $20 and have no shelf life. Don’t try to save a few bucks by going cheap on this with a sub-standard tourniquet. In addition, think of ways you could improvise tourniquets and dressings in the event there are more injuries than supplies (think the Boston Marathon bombing or other mass-casualty events).
There are no time-outs in a fight just because you got punched, cut, stabbed or shot. Finish the fight. Find cover or a defensible position. Stay alert for new or re-emerging threats. Call for help. Control your breathing. Remember: Complacency Kills, so check yourself for injuries even if you don’t think you sustained any. Assess the severity of your injuries. Treat life-threatening bleeding first. If you are unable to stop the bleeding, at least slow it down because every drop of blood saved gives the surgeons a little more life to work with. How long will it take for EMS and/or back-up officers to reach you? If transporting yourself or another injured officer by patrol car, Watch Your Speed, because What’s Important Now is getting to the hospital quickly but safely.
If you have not received recent training in self-aid/buddy-aid, then you need to approach your administration about it and make it happen. If your department refuses to provide the training, seek it out yourself and go to it on your own time and at your own expense. Don’t sit back and make the excuse that it is the agency’s responsibility to send you to the training or equip you for such an event. There have been more than 20,000 officers killed in the line of duty in the United States but there has never been an agency killed in the line of duty. If you are killed tomorrow, your agency will survive. You are ultimately responsible for your own ability to win and survive.
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