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Five Minutes to Live

A new interactive training program teaches officers how to save lives when seconds count.

November 01, 2004  |  by Dr. Lawrence Heiskell

Most police officers are conditioned to think that if they are grievously wounded in the line of duty their survival will depend on the skill of paramedics and emergency physicians. This is largely true, but it's also true that you may be in a position to save yourself, your partner, or innocent civilians if you have some training and if you react quickly enough.

Educating cops how to save themselves and others in dire medical emergencies when seconds count is the goal of a new interactive training program from the The Backup Training Corp. Titled "Tactical Lifesaver," the course from Couer d'Alene, Idaho-based Backup retails for $9.95 and offers any officer an innovative concept in emergency medical training that could save his or her life or the lives of innocent victims.

"Tactical Lifesaver" comes on a single CD ROM, and it can be completed in about eight hours. Registered users can even receive college credit for the program. Credit is awarded after the user completes the course, answers the questions at the end of each section, and receives a 100 percent score on the section review and final exam.

One advantage to this CD-ROM training program is that you are able to take the course at your own pace in multiple sessions. Each time you log in, class time tracking renews where you left off. You may also use the bookmark function and mark a section to which you want to return.

For those of us that are on the go, you can also take the course on multiple computers. When you move to another computer you must first save your work to a floppy disk. You may also retake the course as often as you like.

Police officers are usually the first at an emergency scene. Medical and fire personnel are generally trained not to enter a scene until police have secured the area. It can take several minutes to several hours to secure a scene, and studies have shown that police officers and victims have died simply from the lack of immediate emergency medical care.

Liability and Lifesaving

Some police administrators may cringe at the idea of their officers performing emergency medical procedures in a field environment due to the possibility of increased liability. But with the proper training, that's really not a valid concern.

Police officers already work in a high liability environment every day of the week. And their best defense against lawsuits is documented training. Using the proper techniques and training, law enforcement personnel can reduce their risk of liability and increase their chance and others' of survival if injured. Historically, liability typically arises when police officers do not have the appropriate training and are forced to act by necessity or when an officer performs some act outside an established protocol.

So the question is, does the "Tactical Lifesaver" course give a first responder the tools necessary to perform emergency medical procedures when no medical personnel can reach the scene in time? And the answer is, "Yes." This CD-ROM course teaches a court-defensible set of protocols for an officer to follow during a critical incident.

An officer who provides aid based on the "Tactical Lifesaver" model has an established medical practice to back him up in court. An untrained officer who does not act, or acts improperly due to lack of training, could be held liable for his or her actions.

In the current legal environment, failure to train an officer is often as bad as or worse than having an officer make a mistake under pressure. Dr. Thomas Stein, one of the co-founders of The Backup Training Corp., believes in this training strongly enough that he has offered to testify in court on behalf of police officers who are sued for properly using "Tactical Lifesaver" skills.

The Platinum Five

Long ago, emergency physicians coined the term "the golden hour" to refer to the fact that a person who has suffered a wound or injury has a better chance of survival if he can get appropriate medical care within 60 minutes. They were off by 55 minutes. Today, emergency physicians recognize, and medical research clearly shows, that a victim has just five minutes in which to be stabilized from a life-threatening injury from penetrating wounds.

This concept is known as "the platinum five minutes," and it replaces the outdated golden hour rule for victims of penetrating knife and gunshot wounds. Since police officers are much more likely to be killed by penetrating wounds than any other injury, knowledge of what to do during the platinum five minutes can quite simply save the lives of wounded cops.

Basic Approach

It's important that we establish the limits of a program like "Tactical Lifesaver" before we discuss its contents. "Tactical Lifesaver" will not magically transform a cop into an emergency physician or even into a paramedic. That's not its goal.

The Backup takes the approach in this course that police officers can benefit from having a basic understanding of first aid, but the course also clearly understands that medical care will never be a cop's primary duty. It is only necessary to give police officers a few basic techniques that can be learned and retained easily.

Cops also need to be cognizant of the fact that any aid they give will be performed in a potentially hostile environment because, if the area is not secured, medical personnel will not enter and give assistance. Therefore, officers will have to take certain tactical circumstances into consideration. This is why "Tactical Lifesaver" was designed to teach officers how to give aid under fire.

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