Since World War I, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has officially assigned medics to units and for a very good reason. According to Tactical Medicine, research has shown that 90 percent of all battle deaths occur in the field – prior to any medical attention. The lesson taken away from this research has not been lost on law enforcement agencies.
How the Waco Raid demonstrated the need for medical personnel in tactical teams
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has had a Tactical Medic Program for the past two decades. Police Magazine reported that the creation of this program was born from the tragedy at the Waco Raid, where four agents and five civilians died during the 51-day siege and ensuing gun battles. Officials who reviewed tactics used during the siege learned that ATF lost much of its element of surprise when a private ambulance company employee hired by the agency leaked information. Training personnel within the tactical group would help eliminate such security breaches.
In addition, during the raid, medical personnel who waited on standby to be useful refused to enter an active gunfight to treat wounded agents. The news source reported that during the Waco Raid, only two ATF agents were trained in tactical medicine and while they provided life-saving care to many of the wounded, they were not able to reach everyone.
Now the ATF counts 70 special agents, about 3 percent of the sworn ATF personnel, as certified EMTs or paramedics. These trained medical personnel are members of ATF Special Response Teams and help save lives in the field.
The importance of medic training in tactical teams
At one time, most law enforcement agencies relied on regular citizen EMS providers who were staged at a safe location to provide medical services. However, as that was proven less than effective, tactical medical care providers have been added to teams. It’s a special breed of law enforcement and public safety professional able to take on the responsibilities of this position.
“You’ve got to be able to do several emergency procedures,” said the retired John Hagg, a Sheriff’s Office SWAT medic for nearly two decades, according to Police One. “You wouldn’t want to have a new medic trying to figure out how to cut somebody’s throat to put a tube in to breathe for them.”
Hagg continued on to say that “One of the officers may be down and the bad guy is still shooting. We’re in the building with them and can treat them.”
Some medical personnel who are part of a tactical team primarily focus on ensuring the health of everyone involved, while others are more tactical members with some medical training. This distinction will be dependent on the individual and the department’s needs. Tactical Medicine reported that tactical medical care can be provided by EMTs, paramedics, registered nurses, mid-level providers such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners or even physicians.
At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, SWAT medics were added in 2003 and are trained in weapons use, but not licensed to carry a gun, reported Police One.
“The primary mission is to provide medical care, not to get involved with hands-on tactical operations,” said Broward County Sheriff’s Assistant Fire-Rescue Chief Harris Bouchillon, according to Police One. “Their missions are separate.”
The importance of trained personnel in a tactical team can not be understated. However, it takes accurate data and training to ensure that members of the team and the medic knows their place in situations and how to triage a scene as safely as possible.
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