Surviving Being Shot

Thanks to the advancement of emergency medical techniques and care under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan many of our nation's military personnel are surviving wounds that in prior wars would have been fatal. These advancements in trauma care are now...

I have several friends that are walking around today, despite being shot numerous times, so being shot does not mean you're going to die. Furthermore, I have friends that only realized they were shot after the action and after the suspect was down. Think of Officer Kenyon Tuthill, as chronicled in the Calibre Press Ultimate Survivors video who, despite being shot in the head with a shotgun slug, never lost consciousness. Even though Kenyon lost the use of his eyes and mouth, he tried to call out on the radio for backup. Mentally you must stay in the fight. As the video narrator, William Shatner, reminds us, "Victims focus on their vulnerabilities; survivors focus on their ability to respond."

Stay in the fight

Your first goal must be neutralizing the suspect. Additional wounds or death may result if you stop defending yourself and focus on your injuries. This has been a recommendation for field medical personnel in the military, based on combat experience in Iraq. You cannot render aid when the enemy is still up and shooting at you or the wounded personnel. Stay in the fight! There have been recorded incidents in law enforcement of officers succumbing to non-vital wounds because they panicked and gave up, and yet I have a coworker that survived a .308 wound to the abdomen that blew out a fist sized hole in his back. He never stopped and never dropped. He got his pistol out and returned fire as he moved backward to safe cover. Only after the shooting was over did he communicate his situation to other officers on scene and on the radio. Training should emphasize that an officer must not relax and must engage in follow-through movements. These include but are not limited to:

  • Get to cover, if not already behind it
  • Check your weapons system to make sure it is operational and fully loaded
  • Check your person to see if you are injured
  • Communicate
    • Your location
    • What you have
    • Suspect descriptions, if they are no longer on the scene
    • Safe approach for responding units and injuries
  • If possible, render first aid to yourself and other wounded citizens and officers

First Aid Options

According to combat medical information from Dr. Fabrice Czarnecki, the number one preventable cause of death on the battlefield is exsanguination (excessive blood loss) from extremities. Penetrating head trauma accounts for only 31% of battlefield KIAs. Some 60% of preventable combat deaths result from bleeding to death from extremity wounds. In Vietnam alone, hemorrhage from an extremity resulted in the death of over 2,500 soldiers that had no other injury.

Several years ago I spearheaded the formation of a tactical medic program for my agency's SWAT team. I had the good fortune to work closely with my friend Dr. Jo McMullen (recently awarded the National Tactical Officers Association Tactical EMS award). The paramedics that passed selection have worked closely with the team over the years since, and have become a vital part of our tactical response. One of the first missions Dr. McMullen tasked them with was equipping each operator with a trauma dressing and tourniquet, as well as a laminated form containing emergency medical and contact info. First aid training was given to the team with emphasis on gunshot wounds. Direct pressure to the site of the wounds may be enough to stop blood loss. With blood loss leading to unconsciousness occurring in a matter of minutes, it is imperative that you stem blood flow as soon as possible. If direct pressure does not work, contrary to first aid recommendations from your Boy Scout days, tourniquets are recommended to stop serious blood flow sooner rather than later.


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