DENVER - Few can deny the heroic efforts taken on the part of bystanders in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. Fellow concert-goers became first responders, tying makeshift tourniquets around arms and legs with gunshot wounds and driving victims to area hospitals in pickup trucks.
Paramedics say the recent attack is contributing to a renewed interest in a Department of Homeland security campaign that’s been around since 2015. The initiative, known as “Stop the Bleed,” gives everyday citizens the opportunity to learn vital life-saving techniques in the wake of everything from a terror attack to household accidents.
“We really want to see people picking up these skills and being able to intervene in a severe bleed situation,” said Justin Harper, assistant chief with Denver Health Paramedics.
At the start of this particular class, Harper emphasizes the fact that in certain instances—like an active shooter—paramedics won’t be able to get into the scene as quickly because it is simply not safe for them to do so.
“The reality is we’re not going to be able to get there and be able to treat everybody in every one of the situations,” he tells the class. “And if there’s a danger on scene you’re going to have a delay. That’s a fact.”
“The people who need to learn this are you.”
There’s been an outpouring of interest in classes following the Las Vegas attack. Harper says it’s “unfortunate” that it takes events like these to spur attendance, but he’s glad it’s helping build strength and “community resilience.”
Marilyn Newell took time out of her Tuesday night because, she put it, she believes the average citizens “needs to be prepared anywhere that we are.”
“If somebody can take two hours out of a day and come learn how to save a life, it’s worth it.”
The classes emphasize several critical points. For starters, never risk your own life by going into a still very dangerous scenario.
“Staying and becoming one of the injured is not going to help other people,” Harper tells the class.
They also teach attendees to identify the source of the bleeding. Wounds to the extremities—legs and arms—are where citizen responders’ skills can come in most useful. (Deep wounds to the chest or abdomen should usually be left to trained professionals.) Applying a tourniquet above the injury, high up on the limb, is crucial, and instructors say it needs to be tight to cut off blood flow.
For deep wounds, they also teach a technique known as wound-packing, where gauze—ideally a type called hemostatic gauze, which contains an added blood-clotting chemical—is packed tightly into a wound. (Clean clothing like a t-shirt can also be used; a dirty sock for example should be avoided.) Again, tight pressure should be applied, and paramedics encourage a CPR-style stance with shoulders over your hands so you can utilize your body weight.
“It needs a lot of pressure; one thing to remember is this is going to hurt,” paramedic Nick Clayton tells a group gathered around his hands-on training station.
“It’ll hurt more than their injury. You’re going to have to coach them through that, and tell them, ‘the paramedics are coming with pain medication, they’ll be here soon. But we have to stop this bleeding.’”
You may have to hold that pressure for at least ten minutes before blood begins to clot--something attendee Marilyn Newell says is nothing when you consider the alternative.
“Ten minutes is not too long if you’re saving somebody’s life.”