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10 investments for tactical medics worth every penny

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What would you add to this list?

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Much of the gear and equipment needed to fully outfit tactical medics may be provided by their agencies. On the other hand, medics may be on their own for some of the personal outfitting needed to perform to the best of their ability. They may also be unsatisfied with sub-par gear they’re issued and want to upgrade on their own dime.

I have happily spent hundreds of dollars over my 19 years as a tactical paramedic attached to the San Francisco FBI SWAT team. I believe those purchases made my job easier and I was more comfortable with the expense.

Following are 10 investments for tactical medics worth every penny.

1. Lighting

Lighting is everything. It is hard to fix what you cannot see. I carry at least four different light sources, most of which are powered by a lithium 123 cell. Having one source of battery power and replacement batteries that work in any of your lights is a good practice.

My primary light source is a top-quality headlamp. The Surefire MINIMUS is expensive, but worth every penny. One of the things I like about this headlamp is that when I turn it on, it’s on and when I turn it off, it’s off. It is also very easy to adjust the brightness by rotating the knob.

Some of the more technical headlamps these days have a series of programs that one must go through to turn it up or off. The operator must click the right button to move through low, medium, high, strobe, then off – not ideal when you really want that light off, right now. While blue lights, red lights and green lights all have their purpose, for the most part, when you need light, it is white light.

I also carry two very bright handheld lithium powered flashlights, also made by Surefire. These lights also become a strobe with a second hit of the on button. While strobes have been shown to offer a possible tactical advantage, I use it for a more mundane use, traffic control. Oftentimes, the medic is outside the armored vehicle, outside the target location and there are many vehicles that are driving around the area. I use the strobe to make sure they see us. The other everyday carry (EDC) light I carry is a Petzl e+lite emergency light. This little light is always with me and is a great back up.

Learn more: Flashlights – basic flashlights, flares, LED lights, emergency lights and flashlight accessories

2. Hydration system/snacks

While Camelback is the brand name most people know, there are many high-quality hydration systems that are on the market. I use a low-profile hydration backpack so that it is always on me. Having a hydration system in the backpack is only beneficial if you’re wearing it. In terms of hydration, I use a simple rule called, “sip a little, a lot.” While some people use electrolyte replacement solutions in their hydration system, I prefer just plain water. I carry a separate container with an electrolyte containing beverage. The same rule for hydration applies to snacks as well. Eat a little, a lot. Keep grazing when you have the chance.

Learn more: Are sports drinks, water or IV fluids better for hydration?

3. Trauma shears

I carry multiple trauma shears in various packs, but my EDC is the Leatherman Raptor. This is a serious multifunction tool that will cut through Kevlar if need be. There are plenty of low cost, good quality trauma shears available.

Learn more: Rescue gear – apparel, helmets, gloves, boots, outerwear, rescue tools, and other equipment needed for safe and efficient emergency response

4. Med bag

Over my 19 years as a tactical paramedic, my go-to med bag has gotten smaller and smaller. Every SWAT operator should have plenty of hemorrhage control supplies in their individual first aid kit (IFAK) so the medic should not have to carry a ton of tourniquets, chest seals and hemostatic dressings. I also dedicate a fully stocked advanced life support medical kit in the medic vehicle, which may be the armored vehicle or another dedicated asset. My preferred EDC medical kit is a Conterra Patrol XF belt pack with an attached rollup stretcher clipped below. I have outfitted this kit with a combination of life-saving intervention capabilities, as well as the more common routine non-emergency supplies that are far more frequently used. These items include common routine over-the-counter medications (allergy meds, antihistamines, antacids, anti-motility, OTC pain meds, cough drops, etc.), 2 SAM splints and minor wound care supplies.

Learn more: Wound care – care and treatment of wounds, including tourniquets, hemostatic agents, dressings, chest seals, and other tools.

5. Multipurpose tool

There are at least dozens of different types of multi-tools available for tactical medics, paramedics and EMTs. This item is worth spending a little bit of money on. There are several that have a built-in window punch that might be worth considering.

Learn more: What’s in your tactical medical kit?

6. Knee and elbow protection

Thankfully, the FBI does not go cheap on outfitting SWAT operators and support staff. We were all issued several uniforms made by Crye Precision that offered extremely high-quality knee and elbow protection. There are many high-quality outfitters and manufacturers offering built-in knee and elbow protection. Face it, much of the work a medic does is while we are on our knees.

Learn more: Uniforms – apparel, boots and outerwear

7. Hand protection

Hand protection is essential and every medic will have a preferred system that works for them. I have been using fingerless leather gloves well before becoming a tactical paramedic. As a backcountry wilderness paramedic and climbing guide, I found fingerless gloves to be extremely helpful. As a tactical paramedic, I also found the system to work for me. While rolling toward the target location from the forward staging area, I would don heavy duty non-latex exam gloves, then put my fingerless gloves over those. This system would allow me to have the dexterity and sensitivity needed as a medic, while still offering some protection for my hands.

Learn more: How to buy personal protective equipment – Download this EMS1 personal protective equipment buying guide to learn key steps for product selection, purchasing and implementation

8. Ear protection

Ear protection can range from simple foam earplugs to a highly sophisticated noise canceling radio and phone integration ear protection platform. Certainly, being on the shooting range or up close and personal to distraction devices (flash bangs), significant ear protection is required. My preferred method of ear protection during training and operations included a custom earpiece for the tactical radio and a Bluetooth earpiece for my phone in the other ear. With this system, I was still able to hear ambient noise and have normal conversations with those around me.

Learn more: Communications – radio interfaces, mobile and stationary technologies

9. Writing materials

Having a sharpie type marker and a strip of white 1- or 2-inch cloth tape on my thigh works for taking quick notes or writing down vital signs. It seems to be a frequent need to jot down quick notes, phone numbers, license plates, addresses, etc. Marking tourniquet application time and other life-saving interventions should also be documented.

Learn more: How to buy ePCR – Download this EMS1 ePCR buying guide to learn key steps for product selection, purchasing and implementation for electronic documentation

10. Routine medical supplies

I have used tweezers far more frequently than trauma shears. I have put on way more Band-Aids than I have trauma dressings. I have irrigated eyes far more so than contaminated wounds. I have rehydrated operators with oral electrolytes far more frequently than with an IV fluid. I have taped more ankles that I have splinted them. I have supplied countless applications of sunscreen, insect repellent, poison ivy oak preventative cream, anti-itch ointment and other skin creams. The team medic is in many ways like a pit crew mechanic working hard to keep these fine “machines” in top form and performing at full capacity. Taking a wilderness medical training class trains medics to deal with the everyday ailments requiring early intervention that you will definitely be tasked with addressing.

Learn more: Ambulance Disposable Supplies – accessories and supplies including protective face shields, blankets and wound care

Jim Morrissey is the tactical medical program director for the Alameda County EMS Agency and a former FBI SWAT tactical paramedic. He has a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security from the Naval Postgraduate School. He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of the multi-discipline response to active shooter incidents. He can be reached at