No one would argue that law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical services are dangerous occupations. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, in the first six months of 2022, 129 federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers died in the line of duty, including 25 in Texas, more than double the number in any other state.
Firefighters and EMS personnel also face a litany of life-threatening hazards: overexertion, stress, medical issues, crashes, collisions and falling, and exposure to illness, among others. In addition, firefighters often serve as first responders at active shooter incidents and other hostile events.
As part of the largest Level I Trauma Center in the U.S., Memorial Hermann Life Flight is uniquely suited to help law enforcement and first responders protect their ranks, both human and K-9. Since 2015, Life Flight’s Operational Medicine Group has provided training, education and tactical medical support to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including Special Response Teams (SRTs). And the team provides training and education for local fire departments and EMS agencies.
George Tarver, III, who leads the group and was one its two founding members, explains how the team’s tactical medical support services began and have evolved. “When Dr. Duke was alive, he was always concerned about local law enforcement agencies and officers being injured in on the job,” he says. “At that time, when an SRT operation was being planned, Life Flight would be put on standby and would be dispatched by local EMS.
But local EMS were not always on scene, and it might take Life Flight 20 or 30 minutes to arrive and begin administering lifesaving care. So we began putting our Life Flight crew on the ground, in the ‘cold zone’ (out of harm’s way), in a vehicle outfitted with the blood products and other equipment they carry onboard our aircraft. Now, because we’re already onsite, we can start immediate lifesaving care while Life Flight is being dispatched to the scene.”
In additional to medical support, the Op Med team provides several different classes and has trained over 50 agencies and over 1,000 officers, including nearly 700 K-9 officer handlers. Tarver says the trauma and active-shooter courses are the most popular with local EMS.
As part of Life Flight’s K-9 program, two classes are offered: one for K-9 handlers and another for EMS, tactical medics and advanced care givers. Houston Police Department Senior Officer Paul Foster credits the first-aid training he received in Life Flight’s K-9 Casualty Care Course with enabling him to save the life of his K-9 partner, Nate, who was stabbed by a carjacking suspect.
Since 2015, Life Flight’s Op Med team has grown to over 13 and includes four physicians, five flight paramedics and five flight nurses (who are also EMT-Ps), two of whom are also nurse practitioners. All have been specially trained for medical treatment/ evacuation of injured officers or others injured in law enforcement operations. Several have served or currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or law enforcement.
Tarver says Life Flight is one of only a few air medical services with an operational medicine department, and the group has received several letters of accommodation for the program from federal agencies in Washington, D.C., as well as local police chiefs and sheriffs.
For more information about Life Flight Operational Medicine services, or to enroll in a training program for your agency, contact George Tarver III at George.TarverIII@memorialhermann.org or call (713) 875-9071.
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