As a rookie police officer, I recall being approached by a young husband who complained that burglars had attempted to break into his home out in the country. He said that the Sheriff’s Department had taken far too long, 15 minutes according to his estimate, to respond to his 911 call.

The irate man explained to me that upon seeing several men outside his home, he called 911 and gathered his wife and young children in a back bedroom and waited. Before law enforcement could arrive they broke into an attached garage. This man related how he was terrified for his family. The burglars apparently got spooked and the fled before the law arrived.

Most readers of this magazine understand that calling 911 is just one step in a personal survival plan, not the only step. In a life or death crisis, dialing 911 gets help on the way— it doesn’t solve the immediate problem. So…what can you do to solve the immediate problem?

While we understand that possessing arms is the surest way to protect ourselves and loved ones from criminal attack, what would you do if you won the fight but ended up wounded—or your loved one was wounded?

A friend of mine had just such an experience in his home. Two members of a violent drug gang broke in to his house thinking that they were going to murder a rival gang member. It was the wrong house but they didn’t know it. During the encounter the homeowner exchanged gunfire with the attackers. One gang member was killed outright and the other fled. My friend was shot in the upper chest. He won the fight but was now faced with a life threatening injury. Do you have a stopgap to keep the lifeblood from pouring out while you are waiting for an ambulance to arrive?

Blow Out Kit

One of the byproducts of our current Global War on Terror has been a tremendous advance in emergency medical care at the field level. Self-Care, Buddy-Care, Medic, Doctor is accepted hierarchy for treating traumatic injuries. Today, emergency medical training is given to all Marines and soldiers deploying to a combat zone. They are expected to be able to treat and stabilize their buddies and possibly themselves while they are waiting for the Corpsman or Medic to arrive.

The trauma kits issued to our modern warfighters are light-years ahead of what I was given 20 some years ago when I joined the Marine Corps. These medical packs, or IFAKs (Individual First Aid Kits), have been given the nickname “Blow Out Kits.” They consist of a medium-sized, quick-access bag or pouch that contains life-saving medical gear. The greatest cause of preventable death during a traumatic injury is blood loss.

Pressure Dressing

If someone is hemorrhaging blood at a life-threatening level, you are going to need more than a couple of adhesive bandages and a 2×2-inch gauze pad found in most first aid kits. You are going to need roll gauze to wrap and stuff into open wounds to soak up blood, along with some kind of wrap material to cover the wound and apply serious pressure to it.

Many types or styles of pressure dressing are available. You can get by with simple roll gauze and an Ace wrap. There are Israeli Battle Dressings, “H” wrap bandages, CoFlex, CoBan, Emergency Trauma Dressing (ETD). They all essentially function the same way. They soak up blood and encourage clotting while at the same time putting direct pressure on the wound.

Pressure dressings and gauze will take care of most all capillary and venous bleeding injuries, including lacerations and large abrasions. However, a deep traumatic injury such as a puncture wound, partial or complete amputation, or compound fracture will often rupture or sever one of the arteries running up and down your legs and arms.


Arterial bleeding is the gravest threat as the patient can bleed to unconsciousness and die in mere minutes—not ten to fifteen minutes, but two or three. A blood volume loss of greater than forty percent leads to a condition called “irreversible shock”. Basically this mean that if your body loses more than forty percent blood volume, you could get hooked you up to a 55 gallon drum of blood and you still will not survive. The body’s organs go into shock that they cannot recover from.

What does this all mean to the average shooter or sportsman? Bad things can and do happen to good people. The moment you start to leak red fluid your blood volume begins to drop. It is critical to stop the leaking as quickly as humanly possible. The fastest way stop a life-threatening blood loss injury (arterial bleed) is to apply a tourniquet.

Improvised tourniquets made from belts or clothing might work in a pinch but there are better options available. North American Rescue and Combat Medical Systems both offer readymade medical tourniquets that can be applied in moments. Examples of ready-made tourniquets include the CAT, SOF-T, and MET-T.


If an 18 year old Marine Corps or Army private can be taught to save his buddy’s life on the battlefield there is no reason why the armed citizen can’t learn the same thing. We aren’t talking about brain surgery here. We are talking about life-saving steps to stabilize an injured victim until professional medical help can arrive.

Owning a gun doesn’t make you a trained shooter and purchasing a first aid kit does not impart the skill to use it. Several professional shooting academies are now offering training for emergency/field trauma medicine.

Tactical Response of Camden, Tennessee offers a course they call “Immediate Action Medical.” This class deals with all aspects of using a blow out kit. They also address how and when to treat life-threatening injuries. Other topics include patient care, and transport if necessary, survival principles, and discussion of Good Samaritan laws among others.

Gunsite Academy of Paulden, Arizona (just outside of Prescott) introduced a course last year called “Emergency Medical Preparedness”. This is a three-day course and it incorporates live-fire as well as traumatic wound care, environmental hazards, choosing the appropriate gear and supplies for an emergency medical kit.

Parting Thoughts

For all those who understand that 911 is not an immediate answer to a deadly attack, far too few understand that it is also not an immediate answer for life-threatening injuries. Winning the gunfight then bleeding to death five minutes later because you had no emergency medical training doesn’t make much sense. The gear is available and the training is attainable. The ultimate decision lies with you.

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