ATF agents jumped out of a black SUV, weapons drawn, as they hurried to the front of a windowless metal building, breaking their silence only when the first agent approached the door, saying “I’m in,” followed by warnings that they were officers serving a warrant.
Within seconds, popping sounds were followed by more urgent cries: “Agent down! Arterial bleed — he’s bleeding out, get the tourniquet, get the tourniquet, get the tourniquet,” as agents scrambled to get their fallen comrade out of the “hot zone.”
The intensity and frenzy were real, but the bullets and blood were not.
Instead, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents as well as task force members from the New Orleans Police Department were going through a training scenario Tuesday at Camp Villere near Slidell to teach them what to do when an agent is down and they are still under fire.
Emergency medical technicians won’t enter a hot zone, Special Agent Kevin Moran said. Instead, it’s up to agents at the scene to provide immediate attention to the wounded and move them quickly to a safer place and then to treatment, whether that means an ambulance, a helicopter or a hospital.
Each agent carries an individual first aid kit, which they are expected to use to treat not only a wounded fellow agent but themselves, if necessary.
“Just because you get wounded doesn’t mean you’re done,” said Special Agent Phil Durham, who was overseeing the training session that involved about 15 participants.
Special Agent Hank Meyer, a paramedic who is part of the ATF’s tactical medical program, acted as coach, telling the agents what was happening in the scenario and what they needed to do, watching to make sure they completed each task effectively.
Meyer and the others running the session strove to make the exercise as realistic as possible. Participants did reconnaissance and planning, just as they would before a real raid, but they didn’t know how many shooters they would encounter or how many agents would be hit.
Only Cedric Palmisano, who is with New Orleans Emergency Medical Services, knew that he was going to play the role of the downed agent. One piece of beef liver had been strapped to his leg, another to his chest to simulate wounds. Meyer had bags of red liquid to simulate bleeding, leaving a red stain on the concrete floor of the building following the session.
As some agents stood in front of Palmisano, weapons drawn, others tended him, with Meyer relaying the extent of the simulated injuries, counting out loud as they applied a training tourniquet.
As his fellow agents dragged him outside by the back of his vest, Palmisano gave an Oscar-worthy performance as a gunshot victim, complete with stertorous breathing.
“He’s snoring, he’s snoring,” Meyer said, urging the agents to place a nasal trumpet into Palmisano’s nostrils, sending a tube down his throat to ensure that his airway was open.
That maneuver, and the fact that his clothes were cut off of him by fellow agents in a big hurry, was the worst part of being the designated victim. But Palmisano played down the experience, insisting it was uncomfortable but not really painful.
While the worst an agent can get in a training exercise is a ping with a paint ball, Moran said that looking down to find a paint mark on your vest is a sobering experience, one that makes agents think hard about what they need to do differently.
Durham stressed the importance of all agents being prepared for such an emergency. The ATF deals with violent crime, he said, and specifically with weapons, arson and explosives. “Every day, something dangerous could happen,’’ he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.