When Baton Rouge Police Cpl. T.J. Morse arrived at a crime scene in January 2016, he found officers trying to control an angry man who was bleeding profusely after he had punched through a window, slicing open his arm.
Officers tightened a belt around the man's arm to try to stop the bleeding, but it wasn't working.
Just weeks earlier, the department had begun giving officers medical kits, which included tourniquets, along with training on how to use them.
“I saw what was going on, so I got my tourniquet out and moved the belt that was helping, but not doing a good job,” said Morse, who was a member of the Special Response Team at the time. “I put the tourniquet on, tightened it down, and the bleeding completely stopped.”
Emergency Medical Services arrived and rushed the man to a hospital with Morse following to ensure the man didn’t become violent again.
In the emergency room, the doctor slightly loosened the band and blood spurted everywhere.
“The EMS people, the doctor, everyone said this tourniquet definitely saved this man’s life,” Morse said. “He would have definitely bled to death."
Between January and August of 2016, all Baton Rouge police officers received a medical kit with a tourniquet, gauze, pressure bandages and a special bandage for chest wounds and were trained on how to use them.
Since then, the tourniquets have been used on 35 to 40 people, possibly saving some lives, said Sgt. L'Jean McKneely, a police spokesman.
Morse, a police academy trainer, now instructs new and veteran Baton Rouge police officers on how to use their medical kits.
EMS spokesman Mike Chustz said ambulance crews usually are not far behind police when it comes to arriving at crime scenes but sometimes they have to hang back until officers determine the area is safe. Of all the equipment officers have, he said, the tourniquets “can make the most impact of things you can carry.”
“Not only does it save your life out in the field, it also helps in the recovery process because the more critically you are injured, the longer the recovery,” Chustz said.
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EMS has placed a two-hour limit on how long they will leave a tourniquet on a wounded person's limb, Chustz said. That amount of time, he said, is enough to get a patient to an emergency room and into surgery.
The tourniquets are wide and applied for a short enough period of time that there is a minimal risk for one causing the loss of a limb, Morse said.
When the program was launched, it didn't take long for police to realize that officers, who are typically the first to arrive at a crime scene, were using the tourniquets “like crazy,” and the department needed to keep better track of their use.
In January 2017, the department created a form that officers now fill out when they use any of the items provided in the medical kits.
“We have about 25 to 30 so far this year from January to Sept. 1, most of them being the tourniquets,” Morse said of how many times medical kits have been used. “Like 85 percent or so of it was gunshot wounds, where they used tourniquets.”
During their annual training at which officers are recertified in such areas as the firing range, they are also given a refresher course in first aid, which has evolved. Now they train in conditions designed to imitate real-life scenarios, including putting tourniquets on each other amid simulated gunfire and other obstacles in the dimly-lit and sometimes pitch-black halls of the former Women’s Hospital, now the Police Department's headquarters.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark has had experience with tourniquets working as an emergency room doctor at the former Earl K. Long Medical Center and on SWAT team deployments as a medical director. He said officers carrying tourniquets is not a new phenomenon.
“It’s something that has been done for quite some time, especially in high-risk environments,” Clark said. “It certainly is very lifesaving.”
Before becoming a coroner in 2011, Clark was the medical director for the SWAT teams for both the Louisiana State Police and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. All SWAT officers carried a kit similar to what Baton Rouge officers now have.
When Clark leads training classes for SWAT teams, first responders and military groups who work in dangerous combat-type environments, he teaches tourniquet techniques, using a picture from a case he handled while at Earl K. Long.
A man who threw up his arms to deflect an attacker ended up with a knife through his forearm. Clark said he immediately applied a tourniquet and kept it on until he rushed the man into surgery.
“This could have been something easily that could have happened on the street,” Clark said of the stabbing.
Morse said he thinks the department switching from civilian first-aid training to combat-casualty care training, a more intensive first aid geared toward treating life threatening wounds, is keeping down the city’s homicide numbers, which, he said, skyrocketed in 2017.
“I can’t say for certain how many people would have died 100 percent without the tourniquet, but I’m sure that some of those, if it weren’t for the medical attention, would’ve died or at least been a lot worse off,” he said.
There were 59 homicides in Baton Rouge between Jan. 1 and Tuesday, which is an increase from the 42 homicides the city had in all of 2016.
“I think if it weren’t for these, there’s no telling what our homicide numbers would actually be,” Morse said of tourniquets.