Revamping active shooter training in the District

D.C.’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEMA) is teaming up with the District’s police and fire departments as they work to revamp the city’s active shooter training. 

What does that look like? How is this training different from years past? 

HSEMA Director Christopher Rodriguez tells FOX 5 there is now a stronger emphasis on what happens before a response is needed.

"How do we identify, for example, suspicious activity, whether someone is expressing a grievance for example and how that moves from grievances to planning to deciding to commit an act of violence? What we do through our active-shooting training is really work with the participants to identify some of those key indicators and knowing how to report them as well," Rodriguez said.

The response to the situation is just as important. D.C. Fire and EMS (DCFEMS) shared a demonstration with FOX 5.

One of the biggest takeaways: a belt you see wrapped above the bleeding wound on a leg may be more for Hollywood than it is effective. DC Fire and EMS officials say one reason is because belts are sometimes too wide or may not tighten as well.

READ MORE: FBI: 61 'active shooter incidents' reported in 2021, 52% jump from 2020

How important is a tourniquet?

"Oh, it’s very important," EMS Captain Charles Steptoe said. "You take a gunshot to a femoral artery, you can lose all of your blood volume in about 3 minutes and by that time you’ve passed the point of no return … Less time with brachial arteries."

Captain Steptoe helps create policy for the city’s active shooter response. He says the femoral artery is the main blood vessel that runs down your leg. The brachial artery is the main blood vessel running through your arm. 

Trained first responders have commercial tourniquets to apply pressure on those blood vessels if, for example, the gunshot wound to the arm or leg won’t stop bleeding. He says to apply that tourniquet on as high on the limb as you can.

What if you don’t have a tourniquet?

DCFEMS instructs people to improvise in part of the active shooter training. A long sleeve of a shirt could work, as well as a handkerchief or even a plastic shopping back opened up and rolled up.

Capt. Steptoe demonstrated how to roll up a piece of cloth about an inch wide and tie a loose knot – what he described as a "surgeon’s knot" – over FOX 5 reporter Stephanie Ramirez’s arm.

Steptoe then took a ticker, broken stick off of a tree and threaded that stick through the hole of the loose knot. He then tied a knot around that stick and began to turn, tightening the pressure of the wrap around Stephanie’s arm.  

He then demonstrated how to tie down that stick to keep it from unraveling.

In a restaurant situation, Steptoe says you can use a spoon or fork as the tourniquet’s windlass.

"You want to tighten this windlass until the bleeding stops," he explained, acknowledging it may hurt the wounded victim as you tighten the tourniquet. "But it’s better than losing your life from blood loss."

There’s also training on how to package wounds in the neck, torso or groin area. Steptoe says if someone is wounded in the lung area, you can use a wrapper of some sort to cover it and tape up the wound to prevent air from escaping until that person gets to a hospital.

HSEMA Director Rodriguez tells FOX 5, "Residents, if they’re trained properly are the first line of defense in those cases, before first responders arrive, right? It could be minutes, but that could be a lifetime for some people."

FOX 5 was told it was a "packed-house" at the July active shooter training led by HSEMA. Rodriguez said over 200 people signed up to take part, many of them nightlife business owners.

HSEMA will be hosting trainings to groups again in September. DCFEMS leaders tell FOX 5 that in other countries, children are taught how to make tourniquets. They recommended nightlife business owners, educators and clergy leaders, especially, participate in the training.

A group can learn more or request the training through the D.C. HSEMA website.  

If you’ve gone through the training and are purchasing tourniquets, Capt. Steptoe warns some kits offered online can be counterfeit. 

The captain provided FOX 5 with this list of reputable tourniquet vendors below: