The Tourniquet Boogeyman

During the Cold War Era with few exceptions, the powers that be were more concerned with winning the next conflict with B-52 bombers and nuclear-powered submarines than infantry troops. Ground troops were considered an ancillary component to warfare, not the prime focus. As such the budgets for training and gear were sparse at best. Live-fire was limited and combat focused training was rather stagnant.

When I attended USMC Infantry School our first aid training mirrored that of the Red Cross civilian program and while battlefield trauma was talked about, little emphasis was put on self-aid and buddy-aid. The primary care giver on the battlefield was the Navy Corpsman and your first aid kit was carried merely to give the Corpsman some extra gear with which to work. Improvised tourniquets were mentioned but only with the caveat … “as a last resort, after all other means have failed.”

Win Guns, Gear, and Training

Fast forward to the year 2011 and we have been in an active shooting war for ten years, a war where the man on the ground is now a critical player. Our nation has done an excellent job developing body armor and thus protecting our troops’ core; their torso. However, grievous life-threatening injuries in the form traumatic arm and legs wounds were taking our troopers lives too often. These were considered life-threatening but preventable injuries. By preventable it was meant that appropriate battlefield care could save their lives.

A dedicated Tactical Combat Casualty Care program was developed and taught to the combat troops. Rather than simply scream for the medic or corpsman, troops were taught to treat themselves and their buddies and to stem the flow of blood while waiting for professional medical aid. Pre-made tourniquets of many designs were purchased by all branches of the U.S. Military and the troops were taught how to use them properly.

Beyond-the-Bandaid-CourseOn the battlefield overseas the tourniquet training battle has been won and innumerable U.S. servicemen have had their lives and limbs saved by the rapid and effective use of a tourniquet. However, here at home the only folks who seem to understand the life-saving value of the tourniquet are the vets.

It’s not just citizens who fear the tourniquet as the shadowy boogeyman; it’s also emergency medical professionals and first responders. I’ve had trained EMT’s argue that we can’t teach just anyone to use a tourniquet and that risks outweigh the possible benefits. Empirical battlefield evidence aside, allow me to quote from the Prehospital Trauma Life Support 6th Edition. This medical manual is the bible for SOF medics and the reference guide they use.

On page 181 of PHTLS 6th Edition the manual states… “If external bleeding from an extremity cannot be controlled by pressure, application of a tourniquet is the reasonable next step for hemorrhage control.” It continues… “Although there is a small risk that all or part of the limb may be sacrificed, given the choice of losing a limb or saving the patient’s life, the obvious decision is to preserve life.” Naturally the recommended method for patient assessment and the application of a tourniquet, if necessary, are explained in great detail in the PHTLS.

Beyond the Bandaid: Fighting First AidAll gear, and that includes medical gear, requires proper training to be used effectively. Those who are serious about saving their own lives with a firearm are best served by professional training and then practice. Simply put, if an 18 year old Army private can be taught to save his buddy’s life with a trauma kit, so can any trained gun carrier.

An arterial hemorrhage on the streets of Houston, Texas or the rocky soil of Afghanistan both have the same result, the patient dies. Arterial bleeding in the arm or leg must be controlled in mere minutes (1 to 2 minutes) or the patient will exsanguinate (bleed to unconsciousness) and reach irreversible shock. Two minutes is precious little time to exhaust “all other means” and then start looking for the material to make an improvised tourniquet.

The tourniquet is not some sinister boogeyman waiting in the shadows to force amputation; it is merely a tool that can save a patient’s life and limb in the unhappy event of the traumatic injury to the arms or legs. Training and gear are available to all. The decision is yours, make an informed decision, not one based on myth or misunderstanding.

Have you thought about what you would do if a loved one was bleeding out right next to you? What action would you take? Let us know in the comments below.

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Paul Markel

Founder & President at Student of the Gun
Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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      1. Jess

        i agree with Jarrad. Unfortunately Phyllis, we’re mis-taught as a society that tourniquets are bad, and only a last resort. When do you decide it’s a last resort? If it were your femoral artery cut open would you try some other means first or go straight for the tourniquet? My money is on the tourniquet.

        1. Jeff Wilson

          I remember a few years ago helping my son with his first aid merit badge. The guy teaching the class emphatically said to NEVER use a tourniquet as it will guarantee the loss of limb. Looks like I’ll be re-addressing this topic with my son. Keep up the good work guys!

  1. Mike Carl

    I always carry a tourniquet in my blowout kit when I go the the range, but I never gave it a thought to carry one in my first aid kit in the car. I will have to correct this. Good article. Thanks

    1. Scott Mince

      Why just in the car kit? I carry a TQ in my hip pocket as part of my EDC kit. It goes with me even places where my gun cannot.

      1. Marty

        Depends on the wound and rate of bleeding. You don’t want to use it if pressure is all you need but if that’s not stopping the bloodflow significantly and Quik Clot wont work then I’d grab the tqt out of my edc in a heartbeat. I just dont want to grab that first by rote.
        Good article.

        1. Marty

          I was thinking about this. What actually IS the criteria for moving from pressure to shoving QuikClot in a wound and how long do you wait to see if that is effective before wrenching down a tourniquet?

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