Sooner or later, every first responder encounters a tactical medical scenario. These high-stress, high-stakes events demand a prompt and competent response. Some of the most common injuries include collapsed lungs, hemorrhages, airway obstructions, and emergency mental health issues. First responders themselves may also face dangers, so it’s important to plan to protect yourself, not just your patients.
The right equipment for your tactical trauma kit depends on the patient population you serve. First responders operating near a popular beach, for example, should be prepared for frequent drowning episodes. No matter whom you serve or where here are three things to consider as you assemble your tactical trauma kit.
Small or Large Bag?
When building a tactical trauma kit, first responders must balance two competing needs: keeping the bag small and lightweight enough to transport patient-side, and ensuring that all necessary basic equipment is present.
One possibility is to assemble two bags. A small, lightweight bag can contain basic equipment and a limited number of disposables and extras. A larger bag stored along with the small bag can replenish the small bag or be used for more complex scenarios. To reduce the bulk of both bags, keep only the equipment that is absolutely necessary. Rather than storing numerous disposables in the bag, try adding just one or two of each type, then replenishing daily.
Basics to Include
Every tactical trauma kit should include the following basic items:
- Personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks. First responders with serious health issues such as allergies should also set up a second bag with the medication necessary to manage these issues. For example, a first responder with severe allergies should include an EpiPen or allergy medication in their personal protection bag.
- Patient assessment tools, such as a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, small pulse oximeter, and CO2 monitor.
- Basic first aid, such as disinfecting supplies, gauze, and bandages.
- Trauma supplies, including a wide variety of bandages and wraps, tape for open chest injuries, injury sealants, tourniquets, and hemostatic dressings.
- Basic airway management tools, including a suction device, endotracheal intubation equipment, chest compression supplies, and a pocket mask. Devices that use disposable or detachable equipment should be stored along with the necessary equipment in a smaller compartment or bag.
- Stabilization equipment for orthopedic injuries.
- A patient transport system. Consider storing this next to the tactical trauma kit and then leaving it at the entry to a building for easy, portable access.
- Location-specific supplies. For example, first responders working in buggy areas may need to carry insect repellant, while sunscreen is a must-have in very bright areas where sunburn presents a risk to patients and first responders.
In most cases, first responders are not permitted to administer even over-the-counter (OTC) medications, so packing these in a bag is suspect. Check with your supervisor or review your scope of practice to determine whether you can offer OTC medications.
Designing Your Trauma Kit
No two tactical trauma kits are exactly alike. While some supplies, such as airway management and first aid equipment, should be in every kit, there’s significant variation depending on each first responder’s scope of practice, typical patient population, and even geographic location. Some questions to ask when assembling a kit include:
- Am I likely to encounter seasonal issues, such as freezing temperatures?
- What are the most common injuries in my region?
- Is there anything I’ve needed before that hasn’t been in my kit?
- Am I overpacking anything? Can I reduce the weight of my kit by removing extras and redundancies?
No matter whom you serve, quality supplies can save lives. Airway management is forever a part of quality patient care, so you must have usable airway equipment that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. That includes a quality suction machine that can easily be transported to patients without weighing you down. For help selecting the right portable suction machine for your patients, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in December 2018. It has been re-published with additional up-to-date content.