BlackHawk's Integrated Tourniquet System Clothing

As a police officer of more than two decades, I can still clearly remember being taught how important COVER is. We were told a story about a city police officer who went into a Chinese restaurant to pick up food and walked right into an armed robbery. Three bad guys, one good guy. The officer won the gunfight, but ultimately lost because a hit to his femoral artery caused him to bleed to death. BlackHawk's new Integrated Tourniquet System (ITS) could have saved his life--among so many others. This week we're going to look at the genius of it and all of the various applications it can have.

As you can see from the photo to the right, the BlackHawk Warrior Wear pants (and shirt, although I don't currently have photos of that) look like your fairly standard "tactical" wear. In reality, there are quite a few upgrades in the Warrior Wear line that other manufacturers have not incorporated into their garments. For instance, in the thigh cargo pockets on the Warrior Wear line, there is an elastic band sewn in, so that when you put your magazines or flashlights in there, you can actually put them into a device (the elastic band) that holds them in place. Rather than having your cargo pocket act like a soft bucket, you can actually organize and secure items.

The back pockets are also more than big soft buckets. At the top of the right one is a zipper-closed hip pocket that serves to secure such items as your wallet, ID holder, etc. And instead of having a single "drag strap" stitched at the top of that pocket, the Warrior Wear line actually has STRIKE/MOLLE compatible webbing sewn in. Such design features add versatility and increase the functional value of the pants.

Now BlackHawk has taken the next step and increased the practical function of the garments once again by incorporating four tourniquets into the pants themselves. The need for tourniquets shouldn't have to be explained, but let me review it real quick just in case...

Tourniquets aren't anything new. They've been in use by doctors for hundreds of years, albeit in a different form than what we usually visualize them as today. In fact, the BlackHawk Warrior Wear ITS is going to change how we view them again. Right now, tourniquets are predominantly viewed as separate pieces of nylon or cord, fastened together with a tightening device that can be somehow secured so that it doesn't loosen, once affixed.

Battlefield doctors have long known that blood loss is a major cause of deaths resulting from war wounds, and that the timely application of a tourniquet could save lives--even if it meant sacrificing part of a limb. As our protective apparel improved--body armor, helmets and such--the importance of stopping blood loss from extremity wounds has increased. As our torsos are more protected, our chances of dying as a result of extremity wounds increased, and on today's battlefield, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has proven just how dangerous shrapnel injuries can be. A laceration of the major arteries that run the lengths of our arms or legs can cause a death fairly quickly unless a tourniquet can be applied.

Knowing that, the military has been issuing tourniquets to medical personnel for a long time. There is a challenge though: if the medic has the tourniquet and he can't get to the injured warrior, what happens? The same as would if the tourniquet didn't exist at all. What if the medic CAN get there, but can't get the tourniquet directly around the limb because of worn accessories? Picture someone you know wearing a drop leg holster on one side, an equipment platform on the other, a vest, rappel harness, and what else? It isn't necessarily easy to get that stuff off or out of the way enough to get a tourniquet directly around the limb; and it won't work any other way.

By creating the BlackHawk ITS, the field surgeon who designed it solved several problems:

  1. The tourniquet is ALREADY around the limb. By integrating them into the pants and shirts, BlackHawk completely worked around--or more specifically under--the gear problem. No matter what the warrior puts on, he's putting it on OVER the ITS.
  2. The tourniquet doesn't have to be carried, then delivered, and then secured. No more does the medic have to worry about whether or not he has enough tourniquets in his kit or if he can get them to the injured troop in time. Eight of them (pants and shirt total) are already there.
  3. Because of their design, application/activation can be performed with one hand in less than fifteen seconds (with practice). I've seen the surgeon who designed them do it in about six seconds.

So, the pants have four tourniquets: one high on each thigh--where it can do the most good, locking down the femoral artery if that gets hit (everyone saw the scenes in Blackhawk Down?) and one in the calf area. That lower one can be adjusted for height placement simply by pulling the pants leg up higher before activating it. The designer did that on purpose because, as anyone who has had any level of first responder medical training knows, the closer you get the tourniquet to the injury--just "above" on the heart side--the more of the limb you save if things go real ugly.

And speaking of activation...BlackHawk anticipates delivering each pair of pants and each shirt with a package insert that shows--in about five simple steps--how to easily activate the tourniquets. Essentially you expose them (lift a flap), turn them over (flip them to get the windlass rod on the outside), pull the running end of the fire-retardant nylon strap to snug it up, turn the windlass to tighten the tourniquet, and then lock it into place.

Now, as easy as that sounds, think about doing it while wounded, in a confined space, while wearing all your kit. Admittedly, it's better to have it already in place and ready to go than to have to dig your way to your leg (or arm) to put a tourniquet on. All I'm saying is that it's a lot easier to say (or type) than to do under stress and in pain. It's far better than the option of potentially bleeding to death.

Understand that the photos shown are NOT pictures of the final product. BlackHawk has taken the ITS through several design changes and is working on what is expected to be the final version (or close to it) now. These photos are of a prototype version and are shown here for the purpose of introducing the product line. At present, BlackHawk expects to launch the product at SHOT Show '08.

And while we'll all wait for that, use the time to consider all the different applications the ITS has: combat, law enforcement, fire fighting...heck, my brothers could wear this stuff while hunting--just in case.

All in all I'm quite impressed with it. I think it's a fantastic idea that's been a long time coming. I commend the field doc who thought it up and BlackHawk for making it happen. I'm eager to see the final version--and to wear it. Although, I really would like to pass on having to activate any of the tourniquets to stop any of my extremities from bleeding...thanks.

Look for further updates as they are available.