By GREGORY ZELLER //
The heavyset, middle-aged man was down and in clear cardiac arrest. With no healthcare professionals standing between him and certain death, the two federal agents swooped in.
In a tense moment usually reserved for your favorite 10 p.m. crime drama, the dramatic scene played out Thursday at the Northwell Health system’s Patient Safety Institute, where “tactical medics” from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got a crash-cart course in emergency field medicine.
Under the watchful tutelage of a Nassau County Police Department medic, a Northwell Health nurse and other medical professionals, four ATF officers were trained in the type of emergency medical skills they may need during weapons raids, live-explosive events or other missions.
The four trainees – three based in New York City and one upstate – are among 72 tactical medics employed by the ATF, spread over the bureau’s 25 field divisions. The medics are typically attached to 20-member special-operations teams and accompany them on field operations to care for team members, and anyone else, injured during the action.
It’s not just bullets, blades and bombs endangering the ATF agents and others, according to Joshua Knapp, an ATF special agent and project officer in the bureau’s Operational Medic Program – and those life-and-death situations are certainly not made-for-television only.
“When you’re out arresting somebody, the bad guys live with other people and family,” Knapp noted. “We encounter older people who get frightened and become ill because we have an arrest warrant and we’re coming for their son, or grandson.
“It’s not just trauma-related injuries.”
That was the basic scenario Thursday, when two of the ATF trainees labored for 20 minutes to resuscitate their cardiac-arrest victim – actually, a digitally enhanced, remote controlled mannequin programmed to simulate a cardiac incident.
Trained instructors in separate control rooms manipulated the mannequin’s “biological” responses in real time, with the simulation video-recorded for debriefing and review. (For the record, a Northwell spokesman confirmed Friday that thanks to the agents’ marathon efforts, the dummy pulled through.)
The ATF’s Operational Medic Program was created in response to the 1993 Waco siege – a 51-day Texas standoff that started when four ATF agents were killed trying to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian compound (six cult members also died in that opening gun battle) and ended when the U.S. military and Texas law enforcers stormed in nearly two months later. A total of 76 people perished, including Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh.
With such scenarios in mind, in addition to practicing on the cardiac dummy, Thursday’s Patient Safety Institute trainees ran through a host of other situations they’d likely encounter during a Waco-like raid.
“These agents are practicing for situations like what happens if a team member gets shot during a raid,” noted Robert Kerner Jr., director of the Lake Success-based PSI, which is part of Northwell Health’s Center for Learning & Innovation.
“They obviously can’t stop the raid, and they don’t have a lot of time to think about what to do,” Kerner said in a statement. “This is part of Northwell being a socially responsible organization and helping law enforcement and the government.”
And the ATF certainly appreciates it, according to Ashan Benedict, special agent in charge of the bureau’s New York Field Division.
“The training [the tactical medics] received at Northwell Health will undoubtedly prove to be invaluable to them in the field,” Benedict said Friday. “They will be better prepared to render aid and save lives as a result.”