Evanston police officers Jason Nelson and Ivan Reza taught residents some basic trauma care Sunday morning as part of the Evanston Fire Department’s Emergency Preparedness Fair at the Robert Crown Community Center. 

Some facts:

Police demonstrate tourniquet use
Police officer Jason Nelson, right, demonstrates applying a tourniquet on officer Ivan Reza. Credit: Wendi Kromash / Evanston Roundtable
  • The average human adult body contains approximately 10 pints of blood.
  • Someone who suffers an arterial wound will bleed out in three minutes without a lifesaving tourniquet being applied almost immediately.
  • For a venous wound, the window of time increases to 10 minutes before death. For children, the timeframe is much shorter. 

Did you know that Evanston Township High School has 11 bleeding control stations throughout the school, each supplied with a tourniquet and a pressure bandage, among other supplies? These were installed to buy time until help could arrive if there was an active shooter. The RoundTable contacted ETHS to find out who on staff has been taught how to apply a tourniquet and pressure bandage, but the information was unavailable.

Bleeding control station at ETHS
One of the bleeding control stations at ETHS Credit: ETHS

So what can an ordinary Evanstonian do? Learn basic trauma care.

In an active shooter situation, until the shooter is killed or captured, law enforcement officers are trained to ignore victims who might need assistance, Nelson said. This makes sense because any delay only increases the likelihood of more innocents being injured or killed.

Do you hike or ski in remote areas? Own a firearm? Have hobbies that use sharp implements? If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider owning a tourniquet and having it in your pocket when you do these activities. It might save your life.

That’s Nelson’s philosophy, one he follows. Of course he carries a tourniquet when he’s in uniform – it’s part of his standard gear. But he also carries a tourniquet when he is out of uniform, such as when he is hiking or at the movies. He has one in his car. Reza also has a tourniquet in his car and on his person pretty much all the time.

These officers are realists.They know the likelihood exists of needing this equipment.

Like the CPR classes taught as part of the EFD fair last weekend, this presentation was very “hands on” and attendees were encouraged to practice what they learned by applying tourniquets and pressure bandages to themselves and others.

Nelson said a trauma kit should include a pair of shears strong enough to cut through clothing. In a real trauma situation, it is essential to cut all clothing off at the site of the wound in order to assess the wound. Luckily for those attending the seminar, that part was left to the imagination.

Nelson and Reza emphasized to the group that tourniquets are designed for extremities – arms and legs. They are not suitable for chest or neck wounds. Apply the tourniquet as high up on the extremity as possible. Make sure it is tightened tightly and keep checking to make sure bleeding doesn’t resume from the wound.

They also emphasized that people should not worry that they are going to cause someone to have an extremity amputated because a tourniquet was applied tight. People have had tourniquets on for hours without incident. 

Nelson reviewed three different types of tourniquets. The class practiced applying, the CAT, or Combat Application Tourniquet, which is designed so you can apply it to yourself without assistance.

But doing it accurately is not intuitive, as this reporter found on her first attempt.  

The practice session was a way to make mistakes in a safe environment, ones that won’t be repeated if the situation is real. With guidance, the tourniquet was applied effectively on the second attempt.

Tourniquet kits are available online for about $30 and almost anyone in eighth grade or older can be taught how to use it properly, the officers said. Trauma training is about “how to slow or stop a major hemorrhage,” said Nelson.

Once used in an actual life-saving situation, not a simulation, tourniquets should be discarded. They are medical devices and not meant to be used more than once.

Nelson and Reza both said that other items like a belt or rope might be used as a tourniquet if there is nothing else available, but they cautioned the group not to use a shoelace because it is not wide enough. Also, a belt or rope might be difficult to tie off properly or could become loose once the patient is moved, so neither of those would be their first choice.

Neither officer would promote a particular brand of tourniquet, but urged the class not to try and save a few dollars with an “imitation” tourniquet.

“Get the real thing,” advised Reza.

After tourniquets, Nelson and Reza introduced the group to how to apply pressure bandages. The bandage used on Sunday was an OLAES modular bandage. Developed by a combat medic, it is easy to use and adaptable. It can be wrapped around an external wound or unwrapped and packed inside an open cavity wound.

In addition to a pair of shears, a tourniquet and a pressure bandage, Nelson and Reza recommend that a basic trauma kit include a Sharpie marker, a reference card to remind you of the steps and an emergency mylar thermal blanket. Blood loss can cause a person to go into shock. A mylar blanket can help prevent shock through heat retention.

Nelson and his colleagues train regularly on this topic and others to keep their skills sharp and to learn about the latest advances. But trauma training is not just for first responders.

“Anyone who is taking a long road trip, a hunter, someone hiking to a remote distance, anyone who owns a firearm…those are just some of the people who we suggest should have a trauma response kit with them at all times,” said Nelson. 

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...