Not buying officers an IFAK is penny foolish

Two Ohio police officers should be commended for saving a suspect’s life with a chest seal they purchased, but this shouldn’t be the norm or the expectation


Two Columbus (Ohio) Police Department officers responded to a “shots fired call.” Instead of showing his hands, the suspect fired a shotgun at the officers. The officers returned fire, injuring the suspect who fled. When the suspect was found the officers took him into custody and treated his injuries, including applying a chest seal to save his life.  

It is a remarkable skill to pivot in seconds from crimefighter to lifesaver. The officers, unnamed in news reports, should be applauded for both their policing and first aid skills.  

But here’s the kicker, the chest seal they applied to the wounded suspect was paid for by the officers, not by their department. Though the department equips each patrol vehicle with a first aid kid, any additional first aid supplies, apparently including a chest seal, aren’t paid for or reimbursed by the department. Bravo that these officers paid for a lifesaving piece of equipment out of their own paychecks, but it seems penny foolish for any department, regardless of its size, to not spend $20 for a two-pack of chest seals that could be used to save the life of an innocent, an officer or a suspect.  

Every police officer should carry and know how to use a tourniquet, chest seal and compression dressing.
Every police officer should carry and know how to use a tourniquet, chest seal and compression dressing. (Williamson County EMS)

Equip officers to treat life threats 

Police officers only need a few first aid items to treat the life threats where seconds make a difference – severe bleeding, airway compromise, respiratory failure or arrest, and cardiac arrest. Every police officer’s individual first aid kit (IFAK) carried on their duty vest, belt, or BDU pocket should include a: 

  • Tourniquet 

  • Chest seal 

  • Compression dressing 

The tourniquet and compression dressing are used to control severe bleeding. A chest seal doesn’t control bleeding inside the chest cavity. Instead, the chest seal prevents air from entering the chest cavity. Air inside the chest cavity can make it difficult to impossible for the patient to breathe.  

Watch: How to apply a chest seal 

In addition, patrol officers should know how to perform compression-only CPR and ideally, all patrol vehicles have an AED. The only lifesaving medication every police officer should carry is naloxone, for the treatment of opioid overdose.  

A patrol vehicle first aid kit might have more supplies, but most non-life-threatening emergencies can wait for EMS and fire personnel to arrive.  

An IFAK is for anyone, including police officers 

IFAK supplies aren’t just for innocents or suspects. The primary purpose of an IFAK is immediate self-care or buddy care without having to wait for EMS. An injured solo officer, especially in rural areas, could bleed out before another officer or EMS arrives.  

Every officer should know how to self-apply a tourniquet and compression dressing. The minutes and blood saved might make the difference between a quick return to duty or death, a small investment in officer safety and health every department should be willing to make.  

Read: What cops need to know about purchasing and applying tourniquets 

IFAK contents and other first aid supplies, can and should be used to treat crime victims, as well as suspects and assailants. Officers should use the first aid tools and training they have to provide care.  

First aid training for police officers 

There are a lot of courses and self-study opportunities for police officers to learn first aid. Two of the most well-known are Stop the Bleed and Tactical Combat Casualty Care.  

Stop the Bleed, from the American College of Surgeons, is a global program that teaches people to stop bleeding in a severely injured person. Stop the Bleed has in-person and online training courses, as well as posters and videos to review during roll call.  

Tactical Combat Casualty Care, developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Health Agency (DHA) Joint Trauma System, and Tactical Emergency Casualty Care, both offered by NAEMT, teach evidence-based life-saving techniques to military and civilian personnel. Course participants learn bleeding control, how to use the M.A.R.C.H assessment, and airway management, as well as other skills for assessing and treating patients in adverse conditions. 

Officers interested in additional first aid training have several options, including tactical medical training presented by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and medical first responder training from local vocational or technical schools.  

Read: Why all cops need first aid and CPR training 

Funding to pay for IFAKs and training 

The Columbus officers and undoubtedly many officers around the country are going above and beyond for themselves, their partners and the citizens they serve by using their own funds to pay for IFAKs. Even though this is happening it should not be expected or the norm in every community. If you have to self-fund the purchase of an IFAK, other first aid supplies and training, talk with your tax professional to see if you can deduct these expenses when you file your state and federal income tax returns.  

Community fundraisers – from K9s to body armor – happen regularly to fund department purchases. Your department might be able to partner with community service organizations, school groups or local businesses to make sure every officer has an IFAK.  

Some police departments, just like teachers, create Amazon wish lists and direct supporters and friends to purchase items off their wish list. Unfortunately, knock-off, poorly constructed tourniquets are sold on Amazon. If you make a wish list, make sure you are selecting supplies from a reputable vendor that is selling Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC) approved tourniquets.  

Grant funding is another route for funding IFAKs and training for police officers. Seek out grant opportunities from local foundations, state grant programs and federal grant programs. You might also be able to find grant funding from the regional or state trauma system or hospital system foundations.  

The department budget is the optimal funding source for the supplies we expect police officers to have and know how to use. Yes, budgets are tight, but police chiefs and sheriffs should be able to make a compelling case that relatively low-cost first aid supplies reduce the risk of on-the-job severe injury or death for their officers and may save the life of a civilian.  

IFAK is an investment in officer health and safety 

An IFAK, with corresponding training, is a small investment a department and community can make to show their officers they are valued and appreciated. If every officer in your department has an IFAK, send us an email to share how you made it happen. If your officers don’t have an IFAK, what can you do today, next month and in the next budget cycle to change that? 

Readers respond

  • To correct you, the Columbus Division of Police provides all the items included in an IFAK (plus much more), including chest seals, in a very extensive first aid kit located in every cruiser in the fleet. These kits and replacements have been provided for well over 10 years. I, like these officers, also carry my own additional items, but they are provided.  
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