Rock music blared as blue and red lights flashed in a large, dark room in a building off Airport Way South. Fog machines belched smoke into the air, obscuring the vision of the police officers who knelt on the concrete floor as they tended to patients wrapped in silver thermal blankets, surrounded by the detritus of torn-open medical supplies.
It was the final day of an advanced 4-day training program for the Seattle Police Department’s certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), held last month. The building’s rooms and hallways were cluttered with PVC pipes, office furniture and other obstacles to simulate the chaos following an explosion. Stage blood flowed through clear tubes affixed to fake wounds on heads, limbs and torsos. Scattered among the officers who were role-playing as injured “victims” were robotic mannequins capable of bleeding and yelling out in pain.
Created by a Seattle cop, a military veteran and an emergency-room doctor, the training deliberately stimulated the officers’ stress response — triggering tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and the loss of fine motor skills — in order to hone their abilities to treat people injured in shootings, stabbings and explosions. Based on a blend of battlefield and civilian medicine, the training is tailored for law enforcement officers who must first secure a violent scene before rendering aid, even amid the panic following an event like a mass shooting.
“We know this is worse than anything they’ll see on the street. It builds confidence in the officers to go into these scenes of violence and death,” said Seattle Police Officer Tyler Verhaar, the emergency-medical service coordinator in SPD’s training unit who designed the Law Enforcement Casualty Care (LECC) program alongside Blair Dell, a retired Marine medic who served four combat tours, and Dr. Marc Reiswig, an emergency physician attached to the State Patrol’s SWAT team.
Before 2018, medical training for officers focused on treating themselves or their fellow officers injured in shootings, plus basic first-aid like CPR. But the department’s Care Under Fire Program, started in 2013, kept police “stuck in the past,” said Verhaar, who trained as an EMT in college and advocated expanding medical training to treat civilian victims. After Verhaar broke his nose in a training exercise in 2016, he was reassigned to the training unit and charged with rewriting the curriculum for what became the LECC program. Now, every new Seattle police officer goes through a daylong LECC training, and this year, a 2-hour class was taught to the entire department.
The goal is to save lives by increasing the chances that an injured person will survive long enough to be passed into the care of Seattle Fire Department medics, and then to doctors at Harborview Medical Center.
SPD is among the first police agencies in the nation to train and equip officers to treat victims of violence when a scene is still too dangerous for fire department personnel to enter, according to Dell, who works with departments across the country.
“The days of us standing by and waiting for medics to arrive is behind us,” Verhaar said. “It’s why this training is so important — that’s one more person, that’s one more family, that’s one more community that’s more whole because that person is still a part of it.”
Reiswig said victims of violence can bleed out in as little as 90 seconds, and the first 10 to 15 minutes following an injury can determine whether someone makes it to the hospital in time.
“In a trauma, every drop of blood is precious … Massive bleeding takes priority over everything else,” he said. “If a patient loses blood pressure and a heartbeat, the chance of getting them back is close to zero.”
Up until last year, all Seattle police officers — including the department’s 70 EMTs — purchased their own medical supplies, including tourniquets, pressure bandages, chest seals and combat gauze developed by the military to speed up blood clotting. Now, officers can get supplies from the quartermaster.
All Seattle officers get some first-aid training. Around 200 individual first-aid kits, worn on duty belts and developed by Dell and the Virginia-based BMK Ventures, have been distributed to slowly replace roughly 400 first-aid kits handed down from the military, Verhaar said. Additionally, EMT bags — stocked with blood-pressure cuffs, burn dressings, and other advanced gear — are now on hand in each precinct.
The Seattle Police Foundation paid for the EMT bags and secured a $25,000 grant from Motorola Solutions Foundation to cover the costs of two, four-day EMT training sessions, according to Verhaar. After the first training in April, he said EMTs immediately put what they learned to use — and a South Precinct officer ended up saving the life of a woman who was shot at a Seattle park over Memorial Day weekend.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, the police department’s EMTs treated 132 patients: They controlled bleeding 39 times, applied 12 tourniquets, used combat gauze on eight patients and pressure bandages on another 10. They also applied chest seals five times, administered Naloxone four times to reverse the effects of a drug overdose, performed CPR nine times and twice used automatic defibrillators, according to Verhaar.
Before 2018, when officers began receiving the LECC training, one tourniquet was used on average every three to four months, Verhaar said. Now, officers are applying two to three tourniquets a month.
The EMTs, who volunteer to get certified but don’t receive additional compensation, are spread across the department. Many work as patrol officers, while others are assigned to specialty units such as homicide, SWAT and the precincts’ Anti-Crime Teams (ACT).
One of them is Officer James Kellett, who attended the September training two weeks after he was credited with saving the life of a man who was shot twice in the leg on the platform of the Westlake light-rail station. Kellett also performed CPR on Dawda Corr, 21, who died, and helped treat a third man, who used his own shoelaces to stop the bleeding from a gunshot wound to his leg.
“When we got down into the tunnel … we didn’t find any suspects,” Kellett later recalled. He said officers determined the scene was safe enough to provide aid and then were able to resume investigative work once fire-department medics arrived and took over care of the injured.
Footage from Kellett’s body-worn camera shows him grab his EMT bag from the back of a police SUV and pull on latex gloves as he and three other officers run into the underground station on Pine Street just above Third Avenue. A dispatcher can be heard on his police radio, broadcasting the description of a possible shooter.
On the platform, Kellett comes across the first victim — Corr — who was on the floor with an obvious head wound. He instructs another officer to cut Corr’s clothes off, the footage shows. Kellett, a member of the West Precinct’s ACT team, then joins an officer who was already checking the second victim for injuries. He cinches a tourniquet high on the man’s thigh and leaves him in the care of other officers as he returns to Corr to begin chest compressions.
Within minutes, Seattle Fire Department medics arrive and take over CPR, according to the footage. Kellett runs upstairs to help an officer already treating the man with a through-and-through gunshot wound to his calf. By the time Kellett returns to the platform, Corr and the second injured man — who required a second tourniquet — had been taken away by medics. (According to Verhaar, the second man became the first patient ever in Seattle to receive a blood transfusion on the way to Harborview.)
Kellett, 31, said it was a team effort to provide aid to those shot at Westlake Station.
“You have to think tactically, you have to think as a police officer,” he said. “You want to get the suspect, but you want to help the person who was hurt, and it’s a balance of the two.”
Kellett, who bought his own medical supplies for years, said he’s gratified by the department’s direction in training officers to treat residents harmed in acts of violence.
“The officers value life and want to promote survivability,” he said. “It’s important officers know what to do. It’s good to be trained to do those interventions that are important in that moment.”