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BlackHawk’s Integrated Tourniquet System Apparel

Written by Mick Williams

The apparel industry continues to look for innovative ways to support the needs of law enforcement through enhancing the capacity of clothing. Cops are demanding more from their clothing: everything from UV protection to how clothing integrates into their load-bearing system. Cops are also looking at emergency medical self-care due to incidents like the North Hollywood shootout.

More officers are carrying emergency medical self-care kits with the realization that in crisis situations, medical attention could be delayed. BlackHawk looked at a method to streamline officers’ needs for trauma care through clothing, and this resulted in the Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS) clothing system.

Over the past several years, self-trauma care equipment development has been pushed by combat operations around the world by the U.S. military. Of the innovations to come out of the unfortunate need for troops to administer self-care under fire is the one-hand tourniquet. Various manufacturers have produced one-hand tourniquets under specifications issued by the Department of Defense. These systems have been effective and saved many lives in combat theaters.

As a result, law officers in the United States have adopted these systems in their personal trauma kit. The disadvantage of any tourniquet system is that it still needs to be placed after the gunshot or trauma has occurred; this can be difficult at best and lengthen the time you are bleeding. The tourniquet has to be deployed from the individual first-aid kit placed on the extremity and tightened.

Several reports from Iraq describe security contractors on convoy operations pre-placing tourniquets on their legs and arms to quicken their response to gunshot wounds. From this concept, the Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS) by BlackHawk was born.

First, BlackHawk took its well-made 8-ounce tactical pants and modified them to carry the ITS. BlackHawk had to adjust the pocket layout slightly but did so without losing cargo capacity. The changes were to stitching to allow for the flap that conceals tourniquets in the thighs and the lower leg. The tourniquet flap is secured with Velcro® and snaps.

While secure, it can quickly be opened by pulling on the corner of the flap. This exposes the tourniquet’s locking windlass that is used to tighten the tourniquet. The tourniquet is laced through the pant legs with only the windlass and a bit of strap exposed under the flap. The tourniquet is permanently attached to the pants and can’t be removed or shift in the pants.

The whole system is very well contained and comfortable. There is a weight increase with four tourniquets added to the pants, but they are still comfortable. Of course, the increased weight needs to be balanced with a practical look at your needs, the environment, and overall equipment load.

To activate the tourniquet system, the flap is pulled open and back, exposing the windlass. Note if you are wearing a thigh holster or any type of thigh pouches, the straps will have to be undone to open the flap on the upper thighs for thigh wounds. Then the windlass is unlocked and turned over, and the running end of the strap is pulled to tighten the strap to the leg. The windlass is then rotated causing the strap to twist and tighten down on the leg until bleeding has stopped.

Once sufficiently tightened, the windlass is locked into the Anti-Pinch Plate™ preventing the tourniquet from loosening until medical personnel unlock it. With some practice, bringing the tourniquet into action can be done efficiently. An advantage to the ITS system is that officers can practice this as a reaction drill over and over because the system is reusable.

The ITS clothing line includes a long-sleeve shirt as well. This shirt has tourniquets built into both upper arms and in the lower forearms. This allows a user to treat a serious wound in the hand (common wound that requires a tourniquet) without constricting blood flow to the whole arm. Remember, there are risks to applying the tourniquet, so you want to minimize the amount of limb that is exposed.

The sleeves have the same flap with pockets over all four tourniquets as the pants. The forearms have pen pockets, and the upper arms have larger pockets. The pockets are functional and are good for holding small items. The tourniquets function the same as the system in the legs and are easy to train to use.

The system does, however, require more training on the shirt because you definitely will be operating the system one handed. After a few training sessions with the system on both sides, a user can become fairly proficient. In addition to the tourniquets and sleeve pockets, the shirt has two chest pockets, a mesh pocket inside the shirt, and small zipper pocket on the tail of the shirt. The chest pockets have smaller pockets in them for subdividing the stuff in them.

Overall, the shirt is comfortable to wear, with only two complaints. The cuffs are fairly tight around the wrist, which makes it hard to wear with watches or if you have thick wrist. The other complaint is that because of the forearm tourniquets, the sleeves can’t be rolled up.

The ITS clothing does give users some options for emergency medical response, but the question is, “Who should be looking at the ITS clothing?” Most emergency medical experts will tell you that a tourniquet is considered a last resort to control bleeding. It is used for severe bleeding or amputations in which treatment at a medical facility would be delayed. As such, the tourniquet may not be a necessity for every officer; one must look at the risk and needs to determine if the ITS system would fit.

I would recommend the ITS clothing for officers who know they are going to be in high-threat environments or for officers who work in isolated rural environments. For instance, the ITS system would be useful for conservation officers working marijuana eradication deep in a state park. The isolated nature of the environment and the risk of booby traps that could cause severe bleeding or amputations in the limbs require that tourniquets be in any emergency medical plan.

The ITS system and a well-stocked individual first-aid kit on each officer’s belt would cover most of their emergency medical needs and would be money well spent on an insurance that one hopes is never needed.

Mick Williams is a sergeant with the Bloomington Police Department. He is a member of the department’s tactical unit in addition to his assignment as a patrol supervisor. He is a certified instructor in firearms, defensive tactics and emergency vehicle operations. He can be reached at mick.williams@comcast.net.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2008

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