Baltimore cops as medics: Training, tools and fast thinking help officers save lives
By McKenna Oxenden
The Baltimore Sun|
May 29, 2019 | 5:00 AM
Baltimore Police Officer Michael Payne responded to a call and found a woman lying face down in the gutter. Then he saw the pool of blood.
Payne knew that much blood meant the 21-year-old would die if he didn’t act quickly.
He flipped the woman over, revealing a bullet hole near an artery on her upper left thigh. Payne plucked a thick nylon strap from his belt, wrapped it around her thigh above the wound and tugged on the Velcro until it was so snug he couldn’t pull anymore. Then, he started cranking the stick.
The simple, department-issued tourniquet — along with training and Payne’s quick thinking — stopped the blood and saved a young woman’s life.
“They tell you that during training it’ll be just like a faucet, and that once you get it tight enough the blood will just stop,” he said. “And it was just like training.”
The 25-year-old officer assigned to the Western District is one of over 1,000 patrol officers required by the Baltimore Police Department to participate in medical training classes that equip officers with life-saving tactics. Officers learn how to pack gunshot wounds, use an EpiPen on someone having an allergic reaction and administer Narcan, a drug that can stop the effects of a potential overdose.
Each year, Baltimore police officers are required to spend three to four hours receiving in-house medical training. They also have to be certified in CPR and using a defibrillator every other year.
The department started the program because police are usually the first to the scene, so having them trained to save lives made sense. Officer Todd Brown said that, before 2015, police would arrive at a scene and make sure it was safe and secure. Then they’d phone for help and wait — and hope the ambulance would make it in time.
“Our duty is the preservation of life,” Brown, 51, said. “So the question became: Once there’s no more threat, how do we get care to these people?”
As the number of homicides peaked in 2015, police began looking at ways to enhance the program beyond the two certifications. FBI studies produced after mass casualty events like the Boston Marathon bombings and the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, highlighted what kinds of injuries were the most common. Police also studied battle injuries.
The department discovered tourniquets were one of the most utilized life-saving devices. So they decided to issue one to every officer in 2016.
Officers have the opportunity to protect and serve in a city that really needs it, because being able to provide medical care speaks to that motto
Dr. Gentry Wilkerson
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“If you look at the type of injuries that most often occur in the streets, they are very similar to battle wounds,” Brown said.
The department has spent over $30,000 supplying 1,020 tourniquets to patrol officers. Those police have used the tool 18 times since September 2018, the department said, with two of those instances occurring just this past month.
Dr. Gentry Wilkerson, an emergency physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said what the police department is doing is the difference between life and death. Waiting for emergency services to arrive and administer medical care isn’t always feasible.
Plus, Wilkerson added, applying a tourniquet or administering a dose of Narcan takes seconds and isn’t complicated — as long as the individual has been trained.
“We live in a city that has not only been hit by the opioid epidemic but the wrath of gun violence,” he said. “And officers have the opportunity to protect and serve in a city that really needs it, because being able to provide medical care speaks to that motto.”
Officers and doctors understand that all the training and equipment is no substitute for emergency medical technicians and emergency rooms. But they are equally sure that the emphasis on quick intervention has saved lives already and will save more in the future.
“We’re not going to rely on them for everything,” Wilkerson said. “But I’m thankful they’re out there and they’re learning these skill sets. They’re a piece of the puzzle.”
Three officers put their training to the test May 3 after a 2-year-old and his mother were shot in Southwest Baltimore. Officers performed CPR on the child and took him to the hospital before an ambulance arrived. They knew he wouldn’t survive otherwise.
The department’s training prepared them for such situations. Each year officers file into a classroom and listen to an hour-long training presentation and video with a certified instructor. Then, the 50 to 60 officers are ushered into another room with five big blue mats sprawled on the floor. Each station is equipped with a mannequin on which to perform CPR. About 10 officers gather round each mat at any given time.
The curriculum changes each year so officers stay well-rounded. This year was a refresher on CPR, wound care and tourniquets.
The officers practice with the tourniquets on one another — and on themselves because, Brown said, “you never know when you might find yourself shot in the line of duty.” Instructors emphasized attaching the velcro tool to the front of an officer’s belt. If they’re injured, they might not be able to reach behind their back.
In the beginning of 2018, the department began offering a more advanced “tactical medical class” where patrol officers learn to care for more severe wounds. They also learn how to insert a tube into a person’s nose to help them breathe. Officers are then allowed to carry first aid kits that have combat gauze and a chest seal.
For a gunshot wound, officers learn to pack it like hands on a clock, with the 3-6-9-12 method. They apply pressure for 3 to 5 minutes and repeat the process if the bleeding hasn’t stopped.
Brown estimates 75 percent of the patrol force has gone through the training. But only 500 of those who are trained actually carry the $100 first aid kits. The department just ordered 1,000 more kits.
Since the training was implemented, the department has mandated that new recruits go through the tactical medical course. The remaining 25 percent of the patrol employees will be scheduled to go through the eight-hour training that’s hosted once a week, though Brown said there is no deadline to get everyone trained.
The training can’t come soon enough.
The Western District, where Payne patrols, has seen the most killings in the city this year. It also experienced the most in 2018.
Payne, who’s been with the department for five years, said the May 15 shooting of the young woman in the 1300 block of W. North Ave was the first time he had to use his first aid training with a tourniquet.
But he said he wasn’t surprised to help save the woman — it’s the new normal for this to be part of an officer’s job.