EVART — At one point, I threatened to punch somebody in the face.
He was a very nice EMS worker who was trying to put a second tourniquet on my legs. The first one pinched a bit and I wasn’t looking forward to the second.
What would an unruly, terrified, hurting patient do? The real me would probably scream and then apologize for screaming. But surely someone, somewhere, has resisted a life-saving tourniquet, I mused.
As Mark Watkins, EMS Director for Osceola County, had explained earlier Wednesday evening to an assembled room of first responders from various local agencies, tourniquets hurt and people usually don’t get one quietly.
“These people are being treated with very painful treatments like tourniquets, wound packing. There’s going to be screaming, yelling,‘ Watkins warned. “So you have to be able to speak clearly, directly with your team in short concise language.‘
And so, while play-acting as a victim of an active shooter, I wailed at the EMS guy who was practicing helping casualty victims, telling him I would punch him if he applied the tourniquet. He did it anyway. And no, I did not follow through on my threat.
Osceola County Emergency Services organized a practice “rescue task force‘ Wednesday at Evart High School. A rescue task force is the group of two law enforcement officers and two medical first-responders that go into “warm‘ zones to rescue and treat people following a mass casualty incident like an active shooting. Osceola EMS received a rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as donations from Ice Mountain and the Osceola County Community Foundation for protective vests and rescue kits for all ambulances and fire trucks in the county.
The kits have tourniquets, gauze, trauma shears and transfer litters (for moving patients) among other first-aid tools meant to stabilize patients in the immediate aftermath of violence. The county now has enough kits to treat 400 people.
First responders needed to practice with the new gear, explained Shane Helmer, the assistant director of Osceola County EMS. So the department invited several agencies to Wednesday night’s practice with the gear and the rescue task force procedures. It is the first of four planned training sessions in Osceola County.
Rescue task force procedure works like this: law enforcement enters and “neutralizes‘ the assailant, often passing by wounded folks on the way through the scene. Once the area is secure and deemed “warm,‘ (meaning violence has recently occurred there but is believed to be secure), a rescue task force enters. Two law enforcement officers and two medics comprise the taskforce (there may be more than one rescue taskforce). The cops provide security and cover while the medics do triage, figuring out who is already dead and who needs help. They stabilize and start moving people, sending them to a secure area where more treatment can happen and patients can be shipped off to the hospital.
“Programs like this are what save lives,‘ Watkins told first responders during the lecture portion of their training.
The idea behind the rescue task force and active shooter response is simple: stop the killing, stop the dying. Stop the bleeding.
Older models of responding to mass casualties meant that medic teams didn’t get to victims for an hour or more. People bled out and died while waiting for help as law enforcement cleared the scene.
The rescue task force model gets to people quicker.
A lot quicker; I know because I was timing them.
Officially, I was there as a reporter. But when my camera battery died after the first two drills, I decided to volunteer as a victim; I was sure I could scream and holler with the best of ’em.
In my first scenario (the third of the night), I played a victim who had three gunshot wounds; two in one leg and one in the other. I was supposed to be conscious but in a lot of pain and very afraid. So I yelled at the “contact team‘ (the cops who enter the building first) for leaving me when I needed help. I yelled at the people who checked me. I threatened and wept at the ones who put tourniquets on me.
That first time through, I was lying in a school hallway. From the moment I first saw a cop until the rescue team dropped me off at the treatment bay (the library), it was about four minutes and 30 seconds, plus another minute or so for the tourniquets.
After the yelling, two first responders taught me how to apply a tourniquet. One asked if I had done one yet and I said that I was observing, which was not a satisfactory response. He handed me a tourniquet and told me to put it on him. Then the second medic critiqued my work and showed me how to do it properly. The secret: elbow grease and determination.
In the second scenario, I wasn’t really injured — just some scratches and bruises — and was hiding in a classroom. From the time I first heard a cop come through to the time I made it back to the library, it was about two minutes and 15 seconds.
In the third scenario, I had the gunshot wounds to my legs again, a nice opportunity for more hollering. In this scenario, I hid in the entryway to a classroom. I had some cover from the lockers but I was still in the hallway. This one took longer because the scene was bigger, involving more hallways; still, it was about five minutes from the time I first saw a cop to the time medics dragged me to safety.
“That’s not bad, really,‘ Watkins told me when I gave him the stats from my personal experience. “It probably sounds like it’s a long time, but to me, that’s actually good timing ... keep in mind, you’re stabilized.‘
Watkins told me the training went well because the goal was to make sure as many responders as possible are familiar with the process. There are about 130 responders in Osceola County.
“We want to make sure all those responders understand how much should go in so that there’s a common knowledge that they don’t even have to talk about it,‘ Watkins said. “They’re moving, when they do it.‘
Watkins said he wouldn’t be sure how many agencies attended Wednesday night’s training until he reviewed the sign-in sheet, but we came up with a tally of nine agencies, including state police, a conservation officer, fire departments, city police and the sheriff’s office.
Many of them will get a second, third or fourth shot at the training. Osceola EMS is holding another session on Monday, Jan. 13 at Marion Elementary; Monday, Jan. 20 at Pine River High School and Thursday, Jan. 23 at Reed City High School.