HPD Officer Mike Murray, October 2015
When I first became a police officer I thought I knew what my job would entail. I knew I had to find bad guys and take them to jail before they could hurt someone. My first few years were full of, “hooking and booking” and I loved every moment of it. As I matured, I began to realize that there was much more to police work than I had imagined. I watched too many people die too early and I often found myself wondering if I could have done something more. I began looking at the different opportunities in law enforcement which would allow me to broaden my scope.
Being a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics team was one of those opportunities. I looked up to many of the officers on the team and admired their teamwork, camaraderie, and their knack for achieving whatever they set out to do. I knew I wanted to be a part of that team.
Upon achieving that goal, my entire perception of police work changed. I found what my career had seemed to be lacking and I discovered what true community service and commitment was about. The Hawthorne Police Department SWAT team had a select team of officers and medics whose responsibility was to ensure the safety of the team and the public during operations. This TACMED (Tactical Medicine) team was created with public safety in mind and I knew I wanted to be a part of it! I trained with our medics, volunteered for EMT school and earned by certification as an EMT shortly after joining the team.
The first major test of my skills learned in EMT school and as a SWAT medic occurred while my fiancée and I were traveling along a major freeway here in Southern California. While we were driving at highway speeds, I saw several cars ahead of me swerving around something lying in the roadway. As I came upon the object, I noticed that it was not an object at all, but a downed motorcyclist. An on duty officer was already on scene, but he seemed overwhelmed by the death which was occurring in front of him.
I got out of my car and grabbed my department issued medical bag and made my way towards the motorcyclist. As I reached the bleeding and unresponsive man, the officer began to tell me that I needed to get back into my vehicle. When I identified myself as an off duty officer and informed him of my training, I could see the look of relief spread across his face. He told me that he simply did not know what he could do for the injured motorcyclist.
I ran through our TACMED trauma protocols in my head, trying to find injuries and cataloging them in level of importance so that I might treat the critical ones first. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see my girlfriend. Like the other officer at the scene, I almost ordered her back into the car before remembering that her nursing experience could be a great asset to the injured motorcyclist. After my initial evaluation, I knew that the biggest concern was the victim’s compromised airway from the massive facial injuries that he had sustained.
Several other passersby exited their vehicles to watch what was occurring and I was met with some criticism as I prepared to roll the subject into a recovery position to clear the subject’s airway of the blood and saliva which were choking him. I clearly remember hearing someone repeating what they always see and hear on television, “You’re not supposed to move him; he might have a neck injury!” In tactical medicine, there are priorities you want to address quickly; not being able to breathe is one of them. While moving him might possibly exacerbate a neck injury, letting him die from lack of oxygen was certainly a greater issue at the moment. Keeping the victims neck as stable as possibly, I gently rolled the man into a recovery position to allow his airway to open up. It did the trick.
Helping the blood, teeth, vomit, and saliva to clear from the man’s airway allowed him to do something amazing for a person who had just smashed his face into the pavement at nearly seventy miles per hour; he began to regain consciousness. Approximately fifteen minutes later, the fire department was able to find their way through the traffic and arrived on scene.
Once the motorcyclist was transported, the first officer came over to me and thanked me for the assistance. As I drove off, several thoughts ran through my mind. The incident reminded me of the times in my career where I was that officer standing over a critically injured person; praying that the fire department would hurry up and get there so “something” would be done. I remember feeling that same helpless feeling that I had just seen expressed in that officer’s face and eyes. I also realized that I was truly fortunate to be part of a department which truly cared about their citizens, and was also willing to put the time, effort and money into making sure we were as prepared as we could be should we find ourselves in a similar situation.
“Officer down” and “baby not breathing” are two calls which send chills down the spine of even the most seasoned officer. Unfortunately, we will all hear these calls come over the radio at some time during our career. Regardless of how many times you might have heard them, your heart will pound, adrenaline will surge through your body, and you will charge towards the scene at full speed. On the way, you will also pray for paramedics to get there quickly. However, we learn early in our careers that, in most circumstances, we will generally beat the fire department to most calls simply because we are already in the field driving around. In addition, it is not uncommon for fire personnel to refrain from entering “hot” scenes until they confirm that we (the police) have rendered them safe. What that really means is that we have to keep the victims alive until they get there.
On an unseasonably warm December morning, I was driving around in my black and white patrol vehicle wondering what the day was going to bring. Although it was not even 0800 yet, I had already handled several radio calls and the day was shaping up to be another busy one. Just then, dispatch broke the silence of my patrol car with those dreaded words: “Attention units, fire responding to a three week old baby not breathing.” Once I heard the address I knew that I would beat the fire department to the scene. I immediately informed dispatch that I would be responding. As I charged down the busy city streets towards the child, I went over what I would need to do when I got there. I repeated the current infant cardiopulmonary standards out loud to myself over and over. I wanted to make sure that I would make no mistakes while I worked on the child and to ensure that there were no doubts in the parent’s minds that I was doing everything within my power to keep their child alive. When I reached the address, I quickly went to the trunk of my car and grabbed the “Stat Pak” medical bag that my department had just placed into each patrol vehicle. The medical bag contained resuscitation gear for adults and children as well as an automated electronic defibrillator, so I had all the tools I would need for this situation.
As I ran towards the apartment complex, I could hear a woman screaming for help. I did what all cops do in such situations, I sprinted towards the screams. Upon reaching the apartment where the screams were coming from, I was met by a panicked father who stammered “Man, you gotta help my kid…” I stepped into the small apartment and immediately noticed all of the cute children’s clothing and toys that littered the small, yet tidy living room. It was clear the parents loved their child very much.
I pushed my way into a cramped bedroom and found a mother sobbing over what looked like a lifeless baby lying on the bed. I immediately threw the medical bag on the bed next to the child and began a rapid assessment. The bluish-gray skin tone of the baby gave it an unreal quality, like something you see on television. I saw that the child was taking occasional intermittent gasps but nothing near enough to support life. As quickly as I could I checked the child’s airway but did not see any obstruction that might be preventing proper respirations. I also determined that the child had a very rapid, yet weak pulse. Since the child had a heartbeat, I began assisting its breathing through use of the “bag valve mask” supplied in all our medical kits. With the first breath, I saw the chest rise and fall and knew that I had successfully gotten air into the child’s lungs. In what would be an excruciatingly long five minutes, I continued to breathe for the child until fire personnel arrived and took over. By the time they got there, the baby had begun to regain color and the pulse became stronger and stronger. Fire personnel took over treatment and soon transported the baby to the hospital.
I remember getting back to my car and finding myself shaking as I responded to the adrenaline dump that was coursing through my body. Even though I had received EMT training and held current accreditation, I still found myself asking that same question I had asked myself prior to my medical training: Had I done everything that I could? This time though, I could honestly tell myself that I had. I later followed up on the baby’s condition and was told that after spending some time in the hospital the child made a complete recovery. The skills that I had been given by my department and through the EMT program saved a life that day; an accomplishment, and a blessing, that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Within a month of the “baby not breathing call,” I would be faced with another critical incident that would test my skills. I was working on a simple crime report when I heard an emergency broadcast that an officer from a neighboring agency had been shot numerous times and mutual aid was being requested. I apologized to the victim I was talking to and told him that I would be back. I ran to my police car and sped towards the local community college where the shooting took place. I again found myself planning on what I was going to do when I arrived on scene: I would ensure the officer was in a safe place, look for and stop extreme bleeding that would kill him quickly, manage their airway and monitor their breathing. I then went through each step and rehearsed how I would successfully complete each task. When I arrived, officers on scene told me that officers had been involved in a shooting and that the suspect had been hit numerous times by gunfire, but no officer had been injured.
Figuring I might be able to help, I made my way to where the suspect was lying and found a large contingent of officers standing around him. The suspect had been disarmed and was handcuffed, but there were no medical services being rendered. I asked the officers standing over the suspect if they needed any assistance and quickly learned they were just waiting for fire personnel to arrive and start treatment. It only took one glance to tell me that they young man needed treatment now! I knelt down next to him and began to conduct a rapid assessment of his injuries. It was clear that he was critically wounded and needed immediate help. I called out to an officer from my agency to grab the “Stat Pak” from the trunk of one of our patrol cars and bring it to me.
The man had been hit by several rounds from a patrol rifle and and had significant bleeds as well as injuries that needed immediate attention. As I performed the assessment, I glanced over and was relieved to find my SWAT team commander working on the man alongside me. Within a minute, we had a medical bag and each of us was tending to different injuries. My SWAT commander was placing chest seals on the entrance and exit wounds of the suspect’s torso to prevent a fatal buildup of air. I was tending to a major bleed in the subject’s armpit area and an arm that had nearly been severed by the gunfire and an outside agency officer (who had also been through our tactical medicine class) was tending to wounds on the subject’s lower extremities.
We stayed with the subject, keeping him calm and treating his wounds, until fire personnel arrived on scene and transported the man to a local trauma center. Over the next several weeks, people asked me on several occasions why we had worked so diligently on an armed subject who pointed a firearm at officers. I would merely respond, “Because it was the right thing to do!” It was later determined that the “firearm” located at the scene was a replica and that a suicide note had also been left. The note detailed the sad life of a troubled teenager who wanted to end his suffering, and decided to do so by forcing officers to kill him. The teen ultimately survived the incident, which I am sure was a relief to not only for his family, but also for the officers forced into such a traumatic course of action.
Although the TACMED team takes great pride in the successful saves, they also take great pride in being able to teach these same invaluable skills to members of the public, other law enforcement officers and other SWAT teams. These skills are passed on with the hope of providing the public with first responders who are willing and able to take steps to preserve life both on and off duty.
One off-duty patrol officer from of our department is the embodiment of why we take so much pride in our teaching and our program. While attending a volleyball tournament for one of his daughters, the officer observed another parent collapse in the bleachers of the crowded and hot gym. He made his way towards this mother and with the help from additional parents, she was carried from the stands onto the floor. Although everyone initially believed the female was suffering from heatstroke, the officer found during his assessment that the mother had stopped breathing and no longer had a pulse. He recognized the severity of the situation and immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. While performing CPR, a bystander brought the officer an AED (automated electronic defibrillator), which he applied to the still lifeless mother. The AED advised a shock was needed and the officer applied the electronic shock. A subsequent assessment was completed and the officer found the mother had regained her pulse. She was taken to the hospital by paramedics and made a complete recovery. This officer never told anyone of the incident nor did anyone at the department know of his lifesaving actions until the woman called and informed the department of his heroic acts. Because of his actions, that officer ensured that a mother would live on to see her daughter grow up. While he could have just waited for fire personnel to arrive and care for the woman, like so many others do, he decided to use the skills he had been taught and to take lifesaving action. That his efforts saved a life that day speaks volumes about the quality of officers we have here at the Hawthorne Police Department.
These incidents are just a few examples of saves which occurred as a result of the training and equipment provided by the Hawthorne Police Department. There have been many other incidents in which our officers have taken their training and equipment and applied it for the betterment of others. These skills have been used both on and off duty and in all manner of circumstances. From small injuries which they treated with a bandage and a kind word, to the application of CPR in hopes of bringing a person back from the brink of death, our officers have truly served the citizens of our great community in more than the traditional sense. In this new model of 21st century policing, we are now active participants in the preservation of life.