The basic first aid combat vets use to save lives in mass shootings

Korin Miller
People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after gunfire was heard on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday night was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The most recent numbers show that 59 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded.

As stories surface from the shooting, one theme is consistent: People who had military or police training mobilized to save lives in the aftermath. Rob Ledbetter, a former Army sniper, told the Associated Press that his military background helped him get his wife and friends to safety, and then aid victims. Among other things, he used a man’s flannel shirt to create a tourniquet for a wounded teenage girl, he compressed someone’s shoulder wound, and he made a bandage for another man whose leg was shot through by a bullet. “There was a guy that looked like he had a through-and-through on his leg, that we just put a T-shirt around and did a bandanna tie,” said Ledbetter.

A group of British soldiers who were trained in treating battlefield injuries and were on vacation also jumped in to help. “Due to their experience, the guys who heard the noise knew instantly it was gunfire,” a source told the Daily Mirror. “Their training immediately kicked in, and they rushed to the festival to help.”

Surgical nurse Tiffany Michelle wrote on Instagram that her husband, San Diego police officer Tommy McGrath, used his body to shield her and other people from bullets. “When we were separated and he realized he could no longer protect me, he stayed behind to hold pressure on gunshot wounds and carry people to trucks for departure to hospitals,” she wrote. “He and all the other off-duty officers, military personal, and anyone else in the venue and out who helped save a life tonight are the true heroes.”


Joe Plenzler, a retired U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s “not at all” surprising that veterans were among the many people who helped in the wake of the shooting. “Every service member typically receives first-aid classes in basic training and lifesaving skills,” he says. “When bad things happen, people do what they’re trained to do.”

Military personnel are taught to stay calm when there’s chaos, Miles Migs of veterans’ service organization AMVETs, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “These guys learn in basic and boot camp effective ways to be productive and help get people out of that kind of situation,” he says.

We’ve seen before how quick thinking in a violent situation can help save lives. During the Boston Marathon bombing, people were photographed elevating the legs of victims. And after then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011, her intern, Daniel Hernandez, provided first aid that’s credited with saving her life.

Hopefully you’ll never be in a situation where you need to help victims of a shooting, but it’s important to be prepared just in case.

Members of the military are taught Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC), which uses lifesaving techniques and strategies for providing the best trauma care on the battlefield. J. Pete Blair, a professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, and co-author of Active Shooter Events and Response, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that TCCC “primarily deals with stopping heavy bleeding from gunshot wounds.”

If you’re on the scene of a shooting, it’s important to try to help get a victim out of the way of the shooter while keeping yourself safe, Hubert Wong, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Once you’re in a safe spot, it’s important to apply direct, local pressure on any wound with external bleeding. “Some of these wounds can be quite severe with significant damage, but try to direct local pressure using a small piece of clothing,” he says. “Applying a couple of fingers’ worth of direct pressure will maximize the chance of stopping the bleeding.”

If someone has more severe bleeding, direct pressure is unlikely to be effective, Wong says. Migs says military personnel are taught to use a tourniquet in that kind of situation. “It’s one of the first things people are taught in basic training camp,” he says. Wong recommends using a length of fabric, like a sleeve or a necktie, and tying it above the area where there’s heavy bleeding. If you can find a stick, you can tie a knot around the wound and then the stick, and use it to twist the tourniquet tight, he says. Elevation is important too. “If you can elevate the body part, that will help reduce the bleeding,” Wong says.

Knowing basic first aid can really be helpful, which is why Plenzler recommends taking a class at your local Red Cross or community college when you can. “You never know when you’re going to need to employ that,” he says.

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