How a police department is saving lives with its IFAK program

Tucson police officers have deployed life-saving gear from their new IFAK kits approximately 140 times in the span of nearly two years, and the bottom line is that Tucson’s IFAKs are saving lives


By Doug Wyllie

Having implemented an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) for all of its police officers nearly two years ago, the Tucson Police Department now has enough usage data to reasonably answer the question, “Was it worth it?” This was the topic of discussion during a seminar delivered by three law enforcers — Jason Brendehoft, Michael Johnson, and Jorje Alzaga — at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP 2015) in Chicago. 

The department has seen approximately 140 field uses of the IFAK kits in that period, and the bottom line is that having evaluated those incidents, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes” — Tucson’s IFAKs are saving lives. 

During their IACP presentation, the three Tucson PD presenters laid out some very compelling thoughts for how other agencies might benefit from such a program. 

New Demands
“We know firsthand that we live in a changed world,” Jason Bredehoft said at the outset of the session. “The post-Columbine and post-9/11 world has now made active shooters and mass casualty incidents sadly commonplace. Now more than ever before, law enforcement is not only expected to deal with those threats in a traditional police fashion, but to also step up in the medical first responder role, once a threat has been eliminated.”

At the scene of the Aurora massacre and elsewhere, EMS wasn’t allowed into an active warm zone. In Boston, no matter how many EMS providers showed up to the bombing scene, cops (and even citizens) had to step up and provide life-saving initial care that meant the difference between life and death. 

Consequently, in January of 2014, the Tuscon police department implemented the IFAK program, and by early February the program had been deployed to all patrol officers. By June, the entire department had been equipped and trained — roughly 1,000 total sworn officers are now able to use those IFAK kits. They pulled this entire enterprise off with minimal personnel. The team consisted of six officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant. Those six officers — who are the program’s trainers — were all previously medics with the Tucson PD SWAT team. 

The team got buy-in from the chief and the rest of the command staff very early in the process — when they were making their recommendations — and every officer on the department seemingly  fully embraces the IFAK program.

The IFAK training cadre stresses during training that officers are officers first — they have to deal with the active threat, and then evaluate care options and objectives for the victims. Officers must complete an online certification course before attending the two-hour training session: one hour of presentation and classroom, and one hour of hands-on work. Each officer must also take a refresher course annually. 

Contents of the IFAK kits — which cost about $120 each — include things like QuickClot combat gauze, tourniquets, halo chest seals, and Olaes modular bandages. This year, officers have used tourniquets 17 times, QuickClot 10 times, chest seals 32 times, and Olaes bandages 24 times. Gauze is used most frequently at 43 uses in 2105. 

What those numbers indicate is that officers are utilizing their training when they encounter a victim in need of assistance, and making the appropriate judgement as to the right resources to help that person. 

Bredehoft, Johnson, and Alzaga described three case studies  of victims in which cops were able to address and treat patients with severe traumatic injuries from weapons ranging from steak knives to machetes to firearms. In each of the five highlighted cases, police were on scene several minutes — sometimes much more — sooner than EMS. 

In one highlighted case, when fire arrived to provide EMS services, the firefighters asked the officer on scene, roughly, “Where is the paramedic who took care of this guy?” The cop replied, in essence, “You’re looking at him. I did it.”

In another highlighted case — the machete attack — the father of the victim was shown on a video clip from the local television news. “My son had almost bled out. If it weren’t for their new trauma kits, it would have been all over. We would be having a different conversation and I would be shipping my son’s body back home.” 

“Our IFAK program fills the patient-care gap between police and EMS arrival,” Bredehoft said.

Bonus Benefits
It merits mention that so far, no TPD officer has had to use an IFAK kit on himself or a partner officer, but a potentially deadly injury is an omnipresent possibility in police work. Tucson officers who have used the IFAK kit on a civilian have real-world experience — which trumps any training the training cadre can create — will prove invaluable when the day comes that they have to use this life-saving equipment on a fellow cop. They will feel comfortable with the gear, and know what to do. 

Further, every time an officer uses one of those life-saving pieces of equipment, they are creating goodwill in the community. The chief in Tucson has created an award of sorts to recognize life-saving action using the IFAK, and those ceremonies make the local news. In an environment in which law enforcement is so frequently portrayed negatively, that kind of publicity is invaluable. 

Be advised that you must do your homework on the regulatory issues related to provision of medical care at in your state and local jurisdiction. Those regulations vary from state to state, and even down to the local level.

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