Almost immediately I heard a gunshot, then silence. I was shooting plate racks with a friend, practicing for an upcoming NRA action pistol match, and I knew the shot had gone off too soon. Something felt wrong. I reholstered without firing and turned to see my friend standing awkwardly, his hand pressed against a bullet wound in his side.
When you’re suddenly faced with a potentially life-threatening injury, that’s not the time to be wishing you knew what to do. My friend was lucky that the injury was relatively minor. He was in a lot of pain, but the bullet missed all his major organs and passed through his body without fragmenting. He remained conscious and alert, and I was able to get him to the hospital quickly. While sitting in the hospital waiting room I realized that if the situation had been worse in any way, I would have been powerless to help because I had neither the necessary gear nor the right training. Right then, I decided to learn more about proper first-aid techniques.
Simplicity Under Stress
I first heard of Dark Angel Medical through friends who had worked with the company or used its emergency kits. When I found out that Dark Angel Medical was teaching a class nearby, I jumped at the chance to attend. Kerry Davis and his wife, Lynn, founded Dark Angel Medical to provide the necessary gear and training to handle unexpected medical emergencies. Kerry has been working in the medical field since 1991, when he joined the Air Force as a medic in the ER. Throughout his military career, he worked with the Air Force’s Tac Evac unit and Army Airborne units before moving into an instructor role, teaching the Medical Readiness Indoctrination Course and paramedic cardiology. After leaving the Air Force, Kerry received his RN certification. He works in critical care and emergency medicine when he is not teaching classes to students.
I enrolled in the two-day Tactical Aid Course. This class is designed for students with little to no medical experience. Each student is given a handbook and a practice tourniquet to use. Learning how to properly apply the tourniquet was one of the first lessons. Throughout the class, Kerry would randomly call out a limb, and we had to race to apply it correctly. At the start of the class, student response times averaged 45 seconds, but by the end, each student had it on in less than 20 seconds. At first, it was just a fun exercise. Then Kerry showed us a video of a man who got shot in the leg and passed out from blood loss in 17 seconds. While the tourniquet race was still fun, relating it to an actual event, even one I was far removed from, made the training much more realistic.
The course is an informational class with no necessary prerequisites. Students focus on stabilizing a victim and keeping them alive long enough to get them to a hospital. Numerous types of injuries are addressed throughout the course: gunshot wounds, explosions, knife lacerations, concussions, broken bones, burns, weather-related injuries, animal bites and allergic reactions, just to name a few. How to work with emergency response personnel and Good Samaritan laws were also addressed. While it is predominantly a lecture course in a classroom setting, Kerry keeps the course interesting. He shared videos, pictures and stories of his personal experiences in the medical field. He brought various types of medical supplies for everyone to examine and compare. Often, he would create a hypothetical scenario and have the students respond with how they would treat the victim.
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Direct Action Response
Dark Angel Medical’s motto is “Simplicity Under Stress.” In keeping with that ideal, Kerry developed the Direct Action Response Kit (DARK). The goal was to create a lightweight kit that could be quickly and effectively used in any emergency situation. The kit contains items for serious injuries only—there are no band-aids or individual aspirin packs in it. Kerry intentionally left them out so that when the kit is used, clutter and unecessary items are kept to a minimum.
While Kerry uses the materials in the DARK kit extensively in the class, situations could occur where you need more than what the kit holds, or you do not have the kit with you. Kerry suggests everyday items that could be used in place of traditional medical supplies to get the job done. When my friend unintentionally shot himself, the only thing I had to stop the bleeding was a hand towel I kept in my range bag. Normally I would use it to protect my gear from rough shooting bench surfaces or to wipe off my hands. It was not the sterile gauze normally recommended by first-aid classes. But I gave it to him anyway, albeit with a cringe, because I had nothing else on hand. Kerry pointed out that when the victim gets to the hospital, the doctors will give them antibiotics to prevent or cure infection. While you want to keep the wound as clean as possible, controlling the bleeding takes priority.
- Gen3 Pouch with MOLLE tabs
- CAT tourniquet
- Trauma shears
- Nitrile gloves, 1 pair
- HALO wound seals
- Nasal Airway
- QuikClot Combat Gauze, 12 feet
- Compressed gauze, 12 feet
- Israeli bandage, 4 inches
- Mylar space blanket
The final hours of class were devoted to hands-on training. Kerry set up four different stations: one with various splinting materials, another with a dummy head and different nasopharyngeal airways, one with different types of tourniquets, and one with a dummy body and piles of gauze and bandages. We were allowed to take as long as we wanted at each station to practice the various skills we had learned.
Seeing a wounded person can be shocking for the first person on the scene, especially if the victim’s injuries are catastrophic. The situation can be even more terrifying if you are the injured party and you have to treat yourself. Kerry’s class focuses on having the mental toughness to finish the task at hand, regardless of the circumstances. Oftentimes, the inability to act is fear of making the wrong decision or not knowing what step to take next. Kerry teaches a simple mnemonic device that prioritizes what to look for and treat first. As he puts it in the simplest terms, “Stop the bleeding, start the breathing.”
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Kerry also discusses the legal side of rendering aid. As a non-professional caregiver, I am under no obligation to assist at the scene of an injury. Good Samaritan laws will protect me only as long as I stay within my scope of training. Kerry also covered changes in the victim’s mental status, which I had never heard in previous first-aid classes. He showed us a video where a soldier lost his leg in an IED explosion and a tourniquet was applied. When applied properly, tourniquets hurt, so the soldier started to loosen it, in spite of the fact that it was helping save his life. That the victim may unwittingly counteract your efforts was an aspect of casualty care I had never before considered.
Another topic brought up that I have not heard in other first-aid classes was moving the victim from the location where they were injured, or “get off the X.” In a firefight, you want to move the victim to somewhere safe so they won’t get shot again. In everyday life, this principle still applies. If your victim has a weather-related injury, moving them to a protected location out of the elements is a crucial step in their treatment. Sometimes you may need to move a victim in order to fully assess their condition. Moving them may also help keep them calm. For instance, a victim of a car wreck may be more panicked while surrounded by their totaled vehicle and other injured people, but may calm down if they can’t see the aftermath of the collision.
Since taking the Tactical Aid Course, I keep a DARK kit in my backpack. I feel better knowing that I have high-quality gear available and, more importantly, the training to use it effectively, so I can handle any situation that comes my way.
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10 Everyday Lifesaving Items:
- Rigger’s Belt
- Duct Tape
- Permanent Marker
- Chest Seal
- Splint Material
For more information, visit darkangelmedical.com or call 720-836-7150.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.