Training To Save One Of Their Own

Tucked away in a small classroom at McClellan Park in Sacramento, tactical medic students from fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies were trained to learn a unique skillset of tools and techniques to potentially save the life of one of their own.

The two-week, 80-hour course, founded and directed by Lawrence Heiskell of the International School of Tactical Medicine, is designed to prepare and train pre-hospital care responders to provide medical care for California’s law enforcement special operations teams.

Heiskell, an emergency room doctor for more than 30 years and a reserve police officer for 20-plus, created the course 21 years ago. Students from at least 17 different countries have participated, and all must be certified EMT-B as a course prerequisite.

“We get students from all three specialties – fire, EMS and law enforcement – because this is really what this course is about,” said Heiskell. “It’s what is needed to provide the best care possible for law enforcement officers and the community and the citizens which we serve.”

Course instruction is split between classroom lectures and scenario-based training, some of which included a high school hostage situation where actors played the role of gunmen and students were part of the SWAT team. Similar scenarios were staged on a bus and inside a bar.

Medics are trained to be prepared for any type of disaster, including hostage situations and terror attacks, as well as treatment for heart attacks and gunshot and stab wounds. Most of the students had limited experience with those types of scenarios prior to joining the course.

“No hands-on training, really,” said student Luis Vargas of American Medical Response in Riverside. “So what we learned here is everything.”

The medical component of the tactical training course consisted of utilizing a casualty response kit, wound assessment and hemorrhage control, shock recognition and treatment, tourniquet application techniques, and basic airway management, among others.

Rescue techniques, extraction techniques for downed officers in the line of fire and application of different extraction and evacuation procedures covered the tactical component. Students also learned tactical-medical scenarios for applying life-saver skills and practicing basic life-saving first-aid techniques in treating injured fellow officers.

“You can encounter just about everything,” Heiskell said. “It’s amazing what will occur over time. This course will give them the basics, the fundamentals of everything that they might encounter that’s life threatening.”

Originally developed through collaboration with California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, Emergency Medical Services Authority and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), this course has trained hundreds of medical professionals serving on tactical teams nationwide.

Click here for more on the International School of Tactical Medicine.


Additional resources


California Specialized Training Institute

Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the 2017 October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) wildfires, the Camp Fire in 2018, the 2020 statewide fire siege, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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