Tourniquets to hand
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Bleeding to death can happen fast. If haemorrhaging from an artery isn’t stopped, a person can die in under six minutes.
In less time than that, they can begin to lose sensation and the ability to control their fingers.
Those are scary facts – ones that most first responders are well aware of – and Senior Constable Steve Muirhead is no exception.
A PST officer for 20 years, an AOS member for 15 and a part-time PITT instructor, Steve says he has been exposed to many situations and scenarios over the years where tourniquets would have been the perfect tool for the job.
Tourniquets have been personal issue for AOS members for many years and are also part of the first aid kits carried in the boot of police vehicles.
A few years ago, Steve was impressed with work by Wellington’s Senior Sergeant Derek Sarney, who had suggested to Police that tourniquets should be available to all frontline staff, but the idea didn’t get much more traction at the time.
It got him thinking about his safety and police personal issue equipment. “I know that when we go to incidents, especially family harm situations, we often park away from the location or address – we can be 30 to 60 metres away. Then I started thinking about what if someone had a severe bleed, or one of us suffered a similar injury, and how a tourniquet would help, but the patrol car and first aid kit would be too far away.
“The injury didn’t have to be a gunshot wound. It could be from an aggressive dog or a barbed wire fence – there are many hazards out there. The idea is to have a tourniquet on your belt or vest, primarily to help yourself but available to help a member of the public.”
While he was initially “thinking about looking after No 1”, it expanded to “my partner, my PST section, area and district, and ballooned from there, wanting to make sure we all go home at the end of the day”.
Steve, who is based at Richmond in Tasman District, got the green light from Response Manager Senior Sergeant Lyn Fleming to pursue the idea. He designed a pouch suitable for carrying a tourniquet and approached a local business to manufacture it.
The pouch needed to be able to attach to the belt of the old SRBA (stab-resistant body armour) or to the new BAS (body armour system), as the Tasman District was in transition between the vests.
Tasman frontline police have now been carrying personal tourniquets for more than two years, and in December 2019, that decision saved a life.
Nelson police officer Constable Aisea Lata used his personal tourniquet on an intoxicated man who had cut his arm after breaking a window in central Nelson. Medics later confirmed that the quick actions of Aisea had saved the man’s life.
In January 2020, a Nelson officer attending a family harm incident found an injured man with a badly cut arm and applied his tourniquet before the man was taken to hospital.
When a Waikato constable recently suffered a gashed artery from a broken glass door pane, his colleague was able to use a tourniquet from the patrol car’s first aid kit to stem the bleeding.
When Steve heard that Police would be rolling out personal tourniquets to staff nationwide, he was “over the moon”.
As far as equipment solutions go, the tourniquets must be one of the simplest, says Steve. “They are low tech and simple to apply. The minimal financial outlay versus the reward is clear. They are low maintenance, with no batteries and no use-by date. They only need to be replaced once they have been used.
“I was fizzing when I heard the news. It’s brilliant. My goal, and my wish, was that one day, recruits graduating from Police College would have a tourniquet on their vest or belts, along with all the other essential equipment, from day one of their new careers.
“It’s awesome that day has come and very satisfying to see a local idea morph to the national level.”
The rollout, which will include trauma bandages, is being funded by the National Road Policing Centre (NRPC). Superintendent Steve Greally, director of road policing, says NRPC support makes sense, given that a lot of serious bleeds happen on roads.
Tasman frontline staff who already have personal tourniquets, will receive trauma bandages in the rollout. The trauma bandage can be applied but is not a requirement when using a tourniquet.