INDIANAPOLIS — When there’s an emergency, every second matters, and so do the tools readily available in those moments.
“Seconds count. We’ve seen it on multiple incidents,” said Rick Snyder, President of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
When it comes to an emergency response, police officers are often the first to arrive on scene, but what happens when life-saving techniques are needed, and emergency medical personnel aren’t there yet, or the scene isn’t safe for them to approach?
This is where trauma kits come in. The kits are playing a crucial role for area agencies in Marion County, including the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), as well as police departments in the surrounding eight counties.
To date, the Central Indiana Police Foundation has distributed more than 3,000 trauma kits to officers across central Indiana, all made possible by donations and volunteers helping to put the kits together.
On Tuesday, employees with ARCO Indianapolis volunteered their time helping assemble trauma kits. The event was hosted by the Central Indiana Police Foundation and included a lunch, explanation of why the push began for these kits, and then an actual assembly by the volunteers.
In total, volunteers assembled around 130 kits in about 30 minutes. Inside each kit is a tourniquet, a trauma bandage, which can be used to help pack a wound, trauma shears, strong enough to cut through a vest, seatbelt, or piece of leather, and a plastic OP airway, used to maintain or open an airway.
“You’d be amazed how hard clothing is to cut,” said IMPD Officer Adam Staab, as he demonstrated why each piece of equipment is in the kit, and how to properly apply a tourniquet.
The kits assembled Tuesday will be held as backups to be distributed to law enforcement officers.
“We’re seeing the kits used multiple times every year,” said Snyder. “We’ve had countless lives that have already been saved — both civilians and officers.”
Snyder said, as recently as this past weekend, trauma kits were used to help save the lives of both a civilian and police officer.
“Contents from the kit were utilized in the incident which an IMPD officer was shot multiple times,” he said. “We’re also told parts of the trauma kit were also utilized on the suspect in the event as well.”
An IMPD officer is recovering after she was shot five times in Riverside on May 29. She was released from the hospital the night of the shooting, just hours after a tourniquet was used to help treat her injuries.
Snyder said, “the mission of our officers is to preserve life to the fullest extent possible, and even in those incidents where an officer has to use force to resolve a situation to protect others, and that force may result in the critical injury or death of someone else, our officers still follow on with medical care.”
“There’s also those incidents like the FedEx tragedy where medical personnel cannot get in necessarily right away because the scene is still unsecure,” he said.
During the mass shooting response at FedEx on April 15, where 8 people were killed, trauma kits were used by officers responding to the scene.
Angela Hughley was on her way in to work that night when she was shot by the suspect, while in her car. It was the actions of two officers who found her, wounded, that likely saved her life.
In April, Officers Jason Niewedde and Skip Copeland had the opportunity to reunite with Hughley for the first time since that night and recounted what happened in those crucial moments.
“I was driving as fast and hard as I could to get there to try to save life, preserve life, when I got on scene, I was driving through the parking lot and I noticed a car that was shot up and there were two people standing on the other side of the car,” said Officer Copeland. “I wanted to make sure that they weren’t a shooter. I drove up to that car, that’s when I found Ms. Hughley.”
That’s when Officer Niewedde arrived and realized they were tending to a person who had been shot.
“Once we got her out of the car, Jason said that we needed some gauze, so I went to the trauma kit that was donated to the department several years ago,” Officer Copeland explained. Through the use of an Israeli emergency bandage in the kit, the officers wrapped it around Hughley, applying pressure until medics arrived.
“With that type of an injury, that bandage literally starts the clotting process to stop the person from bleeding out,” said Snyder.
Hughley credited surviving the shooting to the actions of the two officers who advocated for her, and made sure she was taken care of until medics could come to the scene.
“I shouldn’t have made it, but I did make it,” she said. “So, it’s a blessing to see them.”
Although these were two major incidents, both police and Indianapolis EMS (IEMS) say the use of these trauma kits at a scene, prior to EMS arrival, is fairly common.
“The impressive things about the police officers is they’re taking lessons learned from the military and applying those lessons learned to the streets,” said Mark Liao, IEMS Medical Director.
He said often times when the ambulance arrives to a shooting scene, many of the victims have a tourniquet already applied by a police officer, which can make a difference for those patients. He also reminds that not all uses of these kits are a result of shootings.
“We think a lot about shootings in Indianapolis, we’ve had documented cases of these trauma kits being used in traffic accidents by police officers,” said Liao.
One of the first kits ever utilized, only 24 hours after being distributed, was to save a child who was shot in a drive-by shooting.
What created the massive push for trauma kits in the cars of officers in central Indiana and beyond?
Snyder said the need for these kits was demonstrated by a shooting that left retired IMPD Officer Jason Fishburn seriously injured in 2008.
In July 2008, IMPD began looking for a suspect in a series of burglaries and robberies on the east side of Indianapolis. When officers tried to stop the van the suspect was in, the suspect took off on foot, with Officer Fishburn being one of the officers trying to take him into custody.
As officers on scene were working to confirm the location of all officers involved, Snyder said they realized they could not find Officer Fishburn.
“We had officers that stayed with the suspect and the rest of us immediately began backtracking to try to find him along the path of this foot pursuit,” said Snyder. “We did not go very far before we looked down between two houses and the first things that we saw were officer Fishburn’s boots sticking straight up, laying on the ground.”
Officer Fishburn had been shot twice — once in the chest, which was protected by his vest — and once in the head.
As officers were responding and helping treat Officer Fishburn, an officer on shift, who was a former combat medic, came back with a medical trauma kit he had prepared on his own initiative.
“He was given a one percent chance of survival. That’s what the trauma surgeon told us at the hospital,” Snyder said. “They immediately took him into surgery and we fully believed that he was going to pass.”
He survived his injuries, though Officer Fishburn suffered permanent damage and later retired from IMPD.
Though Snyder believes it was the officer’s tenacity and willingness to fight that helped him survive, it was also that medical kit that allowed them to treat his injury until an ambulance could transport him to the hospital.
“Every officer should have some form of a trauma kit available,” said Snyder. So, with that, Snyder and the Central Indiana Police Foundation made it their mission to try and get these in the hands of officers not only in Indianapolis, but surrounding agencies, and it continued to grow from there.
“We’re just so pleased to see how this is spreading in a positive way, and quite honestly, it’s a significant legacy from the sacrifice of Officer Jason Fishburn. His sacrifice not only protected our community that day, but it continues to protect our community every day,” he said.
Snyder hopes this will continue to grow and that people will understand how important these kits are to not only saving the lives of officers, but also citizens. He said this is a perfect example of a community-police partnership that helps save lives.
“People say, I wonder if that was one of my kits that was used, but the other thing we say is, you may help provide a kit that may be used on you,” he shared. “Every component of this kit is vitally important and the importance of making sure we have them available.”
“The ultimate goal, quite honestly, is we’d love to see one of these kits in the hands of every officer in the state of Indiana but we’re really even trying to encourage other agencies across the country to look at this model and consider standardizing this across the country,” said Snyder.
He said there is currently an effort underway to spread the kits to law enforcement officers in southern Indiana. Snyder said a commitment was made of a $25,000 match challenge to raise funds to provide trauma kits to those officers.
He explained, if churches, businesses, and organizations raise that amount beginning next month, an anonymous donor will match it, which will provide at least 500 officers with trauma kits in the southern part of the state.
The trauma kits cost around $100 a piece. After donations are received, the Central Indiana Police Foundation purchases the equipment and hosts events like the one Tuesday, for volunteers to help assemble the kits.
Snyder said, “In this day and age, where our community is being ravaged by violence, one of the consistent questions I always get from the community is, what can we do to help?”
“This is an excellent first step to help. This has an immediate impact on our community.”