Use the Tourniquet

It has happened. The worst day of your life is starting to unfold in front of you. You can feel the warm blood running down your leg as a hundred thoughts start running through your brain. Perhaps you fade back to your police academy “fight for life” scenario. You think about your FTO or firearms instructor screaming at you, “Finish the fight. Never give up. Do whatever it takes to win.”

You dig down deep to unleash your inner warrior and tell yourself, “I will win.” You think of your loved ones and the promise you made to come home and hug them at the end of your shift. Your thoughts are interrupted with more bullets hitting around you, as you are on the ground near your police car. You return fire, looking for any part of the perpetrator’s body that you can hit. You are trying to get up, but your leg is not responding and as you are fighting for your life, blood is rapidly pumping out of your leg.


Your vision is focused on what is in front of you. Your mind, body and soul are all about what will happen in the next few seconds. You think about all the time at the range. The day you shot a perfect score. The countless hours of dry firing you have done over the years to eliminate your flinch when the gun goes off. The hundreds of times you have cleaned your weapon to make sure it wouldn’t fail you when you needed it.

You take a couple deep breaths and line your front sight up ready to engage the threat rapidly approaching you. Your mind starts replaying what you just saw. You stopped this driver for a burnt-out tail light. A man gets out of a truck as soon as you and he come to a stop; now he is advancing on you with a high-powered rifle and he starts unleashing bullets on you. One of those bullets causes you to crumple to the ground. You ask yourself, “What did I do to this guy that made him want to kill me?”


Seconds have felt like minutes as you align the sights and press the trigger straight back. The aggressor drops out of view with a loud thud. You have won that fight but now there is another one—just as important—the fight to save your own life.

It has been about 45 seconds since you called out the traffic stop and dispatch doesn’t even know shots have been fired and you are bleeding to death. You reach over with your blood covered hand and scream into the radio. “Shots fired, officer down, I need aid!” Your training takes over and you begin to think of other things to tell dispatch and your fellow officers. Your mind is racing as the pool of blood underneath you is growing larger and larger. You have a minute or two before you start losing all motor function and start losing consciousness.


What you carry on your person is going to most likely make the difference if you survive until the “cavalry” arrives or if you bleed out and die while they are en route. Your life is in your own hands and how you train or have trained for this moment could be the difference between you living or dying. This is not the time to try to figure out how to make a tourniquet. Remember, your fine motor skills are about gone, so trying to “MacGyver” a tourniquet out of your paracord bracelet, radio cord, shoe lace, or inner patrol belt are useless. You are going to lose consciousness soon unless you stop that bleeding fast.


We train for these types of situations throughout our career but when it comes to actual self medical care, and what we can do to help ourselves, law enforcement in general has been unprepared and for the most part, pretended it is not going to happen. If you are shooting bullets and bullets are being shot at you, most likely there is going to be blood at some point.


I am a believer in the warrior mindset and preach it to all those with whom I work. However, the end game is this: If you run out of blood, you are going to die. We need to know how to stop life threatening bleeding effectively and need to carry the tools to do this on our patrol uniform. You should be carrying a tourniquet and a one-handed application tourniquet at that.


A tourniquet is a device, preferably one with a windlass, which is effective at stopping bleeding on an extremity wound. A windlass is a nautical term that means a mechanical advantage. How do you know a tourniquet is working? The bleeding has stopped.


It is absolutely critical that you carry a tourniquet that can be applied one-handed. The majority of police officers work alone whether in rural or urban areas and in preparing for a “worse case” scenario, you need to be able to place a tourniquet on yourself if you are shot in the arm and that arm is not functioning. The military carries tourniquets because they are effective and extremity wounds are the number one cause of preventable deaths in the last three wars.


The difference between the military and law enforcement when it comes to tourniquet application tactics and techniques is significant. Military units always travel in groups. Even the Special Forces communities have element sizes between two and four operators for the most covert/dangerous missions. There are almost always extra hands to help apply a tourniquet if one is needed.


The majority of law enforcement officers work alone and their backup response time varies from 30 seconds to 30 minutes depending on where you work in the United States. Again, in a worst case scenario, there are no extra hands to help apply the tourniquet. You need to be proficient and skilled in self-care tourniquet application so if need be, you can stop any life-threatening extremity bleeding, get back in the fight, and finish it for good.

The reality of waiting for aid to get there is not reality at all. You need to act fast when you see life threatening bleeding because seconds count. The size and severity of the wound is going to affect how fast your tourniquet needs to be. You want to be able to place a tourniquet in around 30 seconds to a minute, depending on where the wound is located.


Obviously, applying the tourniquet with one hand will have an effect on how quickly it is placed and stops the bleeding. Training should be done in all types of environments in real-life settings. The first thing you should do is invest in a practice tourniquet with which you and your partners can train. You don’t want to use the one you carry, because it will wear out over time and if you really need it one day, you don’t want it to fail.

You should train to apply your tourniquet blind folded, in low light, in a prone position, in a sitting position, on your back, after doing a sprint work, etc. This training should be conducted numerous times during the year. You can practice tourniquet application at the range, during active shooter training, during officer down drills, immediate action drills, etc.


In this day and age, we are being faced with unique and complicated public safety events. We have seen frequent police ambushes, mass casualty/active shooter scenarios, countless school/workplace shootings, and domestic terrorism over the last two years alone. All first responders should be trained to respond effectively to these types of calls, which we now are faced with and read about in the news across our nation almost daily.



Even if you don’t think these types of events could happen where you work, one traffic stop could be all it takes to find yourself fighting for your life. How you prepared for that moment could be the difference between a yellow blanket over your body or a phone call to your loved ones that you are coming home.


Chris Foreman has been with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office for 11 years and Sergeant of the Columbia River Drug Task Force for the last three years. He is the Element Leader for the Chelan County Regional SWAT Team, and co-owner and instructor of Combat First Aid.


Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2014

Rating : Not Yet Rated

Related Products



No Comments

Related Companies

Close ...