While it may seem obvious, getting shot is serious. Bleeding to death from arterial hemorrhage happens in minutes, but is also one of the most preventable causes of death by traumatic injury. If you own a gun, these six medical products are essential for any emergency medical trauma kit or range bag.
The medical components listed below are available in various configurations from several reputable manufacturers. Selecting the best ones can be a time-consuming endeavor. The right choice is dependent on your level of training—which products you know how to use, or are willing to learn, and how confident you are with your ability to use those products in stressful situations.
For now, we want to simply outline the most critical items with consideration given to their functions, size, weight, and cost. In future articles, we will explore in more detail the pros and cons of various specific products.
Tourniquets Quickly and Effectively Stop Bleeding
A tourniquet is the single most critical piece of life-saving in the event of penetrating trauma to an extremity, and probably the best investment in medical gear for any gun owner.
Lessons from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated low rates of complication with the use of tourniquets and that they have a significant survival benefit, especially when applied prior to the onset of shock.
Tourniquets are made in such a variety of forms that selecting the best one for your own purposes can be confusing. The most highly rated ones may or may not be suited to your situation. Windlass-driven tourniquets such as the CAT (Combat Application Tourniquet) and the SOFTT-W are most popular in Military and Law enforcement, while products such as the SWAT-T may be more intuitive and faster to apply for the average layperson.
Hemostatic Gauze Stops Bleeding Faster
Packing a wound with hemostatic gauze can significantly reduce the amount of time that direct pressure must be applied to an arterial bleed. This is especially important in the event of a mass casualty incident. For people with minimal training in wound-packing techniques, hemostatic gauze can make their efforts to stem bleeding more effective.
Agencies and professionals in EMS, Military, and Law Enforcement have been increasingly including hemostatic gauze in their IFAKs and everyday carry trauma kits, despite their significant cost.
Pressure Dressing and Bandages
Designed and packaged with volume and weight reduction in mind, these dressings come in several configurations. The popular Israeli Bandage consolidates multiple first-aid devices—primary dressing, pressure applicator, secondary dressing, and a foolproof closure apparatus to secure the bandage in place.
Other designs, such as the Olaes Bandage, incorporate wound-packing material (gauze) along with the ability to apply direct pressure to a wound site and to cover/protect the wound. These bandages are proven to restrict blood flow from a penetrating wound.
A penetrating wound to the chest requires quick response to avoid the development of pneumothorax (collapsed lung). While an effective chest seal can be improvised from almost any occlusive material, this takes precious time and deeper knowledge of the mechanics and biology involved. A purpose-built chest seal will perform more reliably under a broader range of conditions and can be applied in seconds.
Shears and Strap Cutters
While shears may seem like a frivolous add-on to those who routinely carry a knife, they are safer for the patient and much easier for the first responder to cut away clothing to obtain access to a wound. This small investment can save precious time when it counts.
Nitrile Gloves—Blood-borne Pathogens are Serious
If you carry a trauma kit—if it’s needed, you will either be treating a patient, yourself, or someone else could be using it to treat you. In any instance, the first responder should take precautions to limit exposure to blood borne pathogens. For the small cost of a pair of nitrile gloves, they are an excellent investment.
Bonus Tip—Burn Treatment Gel
It is not hard to find something to burn yourself on at the shooting range. A hot suppressor, barrel, or brass can cause painful and serious burns. Treating a burned area quickly helps prevent complications and aids in faster healing. Water-based gels with Lidocaine are the most popular and effective for minor burns.
The Reality of Today's World
It is a hard reality that we are all at risk, regardless of our professions or recreational preferences. And, while the national Stop The Bleed initiative is gaining traction, this effort will not guarantee that life-saving gear is available whenever and wherever needed. That responsibility will forever rest with us—the general public. And being a gun owner means an even higher level of responsibility for preparedness.
All the components discussed above are available in pre-built trauma kits or IFAKs, but it is worth considering building your own kit using only those components with which you are familiar. If you are still not sure about the best way to proceed, consider starting small and simple with a tourniquet and a trauma dressing. Those two components alone can cover a large percentage of severe bleeding cases. Search for instructional videos and read product reviews for the most widely used tourniquets and trauma bandages. Base your choices on what seems the most understandable to you.
Keep in mind that it is NOT recommended to practice with a windlass tourniquet, as they can stretch out under repeated use, making it difficult to attain hemostasis (stop bleeding) when actually needed. Strap-type tourniquets like the SWAT-T or TK4 are not so easily degraded by practical application. We will explore the different types of tourniquets in more detail in future articles.