Training, tourniquets key for cops who kept gunshot victim alive
URBANA — When faced with a gunshot victim, how do police channel medical practitioners before the ambulance arrives?
Urbana police Sgt. Matt Rivers said the key is to prioritize. Then, prioritize some more.
"Everything we do is based on priority and the priority of life," Rivers said. "And within (the victim), we had to prioritize the injuries. Since you're so task-driven in the moment, there's no fear."
That strategy, and help from recently purchased tourniquets, allowed Urbana police and Champaign County sheriff's deputies to keep a man with multiple gunshot wounds alive before he was taken to the hospital. Almost a week has passed and the man is in stable condition after surgery.
Rivers and Urbana Officers Mike Cervantes, John Franquemont and Matt McKinney, in addition to Deputies Jason Moore and Chad Beasley, responded to a call of shots fired about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 11 in the 1000 block of Austin Drive, according to Urbana police Chief Patrick Connolly.
They found an 18-year-old Champaign man who had been shot multiple times in his torso and legs.
"My blood pressure was through the roof when I heard (the call), but luckily Sgt. Rivers and I were together," Franquemont said. With only a year and a half on the force, he was experiencing this kind of situation for the first time.
"The adrenaline doesn't go away after you do this so many times, but we're accustomed to shootings now," Cervantes said. "When (adrenaline) goes up, we're thinking tactical approach, getting there safely, scanning as we're going to look for suspects — we're trying to process all this stuff and then we think about caring for the guy."
It didn't help that they were in a dark area.
"We were all stressed out. ... It was dark at the dead end of a cul-de-sac with no street lights," Franquemont said. "There was everywhere to hide."
They started by doing verbal check-ins with the victim while removing his clothes to find the wounds.
"He was saying 'I don't want to die. Help me,'" Rivers said. "People can think of officers in situations like this as mechanical because they're so focused on addressing the immediate threat of a problem."
Franquemont added, "You've just got to shut those (emotional) comments out."
The victim's legs were damaged, the officers said, so they went in with their tourniquets and put one on each.
Last fall, the Urbana Police Department used federally forfeited drug funds to buy 60 seventh-generation Combat Application Tourniquets for $1,429.20, including shipping, according to Lt. Bryant Seraphin. They arrived in December, and each officer went through a 20-minute training session with a METRO/SWAT medic to learn how to use them. Seraphin said the department is now fully outfitted with the devices.
"Over the course of several shootings over the summer, that started the conversation around this," Seraphin said about the tourniquets.
The devices are used for penetrating trauma to an extremity. They're applied above a wound by wrapping tight to cut off circulation. The officers said they fasten with velcro and include a small stick that's wound "as tight as possible" to continue preventing circulation and blood loss.
In addition, Cervantes used occlusive dressing and combat gauze that he buys himself to plug the wounds. The gauze contains a hemostatic agent that absorbs blood.
"I've plugged wounds in at least five people in the last five months — this stuff is big and I think we need to be issued it," Cervantes said about the gauze.
Rivers said the high-wire scene was "organized chaos," with everyone working at a dizzying pace.
"We were talking to him and then he was laying his head back like he was going to sleep," Rivers said. "After (tourniquet) application, he went back up within a few seconds."
The officers provided treatment for 5-6 minutes before medical personnel arrived. Franquemont said that once the man arrived at the hospital, his blood pressure had returned to normal.
"Which was incredible," Rivers said. "I think the best compliment was the hospital saying we did a great job. That doesn't really happen and it was really cool, other than the fact that the guy was going to live."
When the action halts and adrenaline wears off, the officers said there's usually a moment where the situation's magnitude hits them.
"You don't just go home from a call like this and say 'Meh, work was OK today,'" Rivers said. "It sticks with you and you have to find a way to unpack that. I remember when I was brand new, I thought this stuff would never bother me. It never goes away, but you manage it."
The officers said the Urbana Police Department has workplace-coordinated counseling and peer-support calls for officers to speak confidentially with officers from a different department. They can speak about anything affecting them, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Rivers said his profession is addressing mental health better than it used to.
"Afterward, my emotions are about how senseless this gun violence is," Cervantes said, noting the victim's age. "We need to teach kids how to respect their lives and themselves."