HOUSTON — Rushing into a Houston home, police officer Austin Huckabee encountered a drunken, combative man bleeding profusely on the kitchen floor. He quickly realized the blood was spurting in rhythm with the man’s heart, and cardiac arrest was just moments away.
Pulling a tourniquet from his belt, the former Army captain and his partner restrained the man, wrapped the band around his arm and twisted an attached rod to tighten it until the bleeding stopped. Then, Huckabee waited for paramedics, knowing a life had been saved.
The tourniquet, one of the world’s oldest and most easily used medical tools, is making a comeback on American streets after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan showed how a simple, 20-second procedure could save lives.
Now law-enforcement agencies nationwide are equipping officers with the blood-stanching bands in an effort to duplicate that battlefield success.
“The only silver lining that comes from any war is improvements in medical care and specifically in trauma care,” said John Holcomb, director of the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute, who is leading the push to give Houston police tourniquet kits.
Tourniquets fell out of favor during the Civil War, when prolonged use invited amputation, particularly for wounded men who lay on the battlefield for days. Those fears lingered, and tourniquets were rarely used, even in Vietnam.
Today, battlefields are often cleared in less than an hour, Holcomb said, and doctors know how little time they have to save both life and limb.
Instead of a cloth and metal, modern tourniquets feature Velcro and a plastic rod known as a windlass. But the basic operating principle has not changed since the Civil War: The device compresses damaged limbs to the point that blood vessels are squeezed shut and bleeding stops.
In Houston, all 5,000 officers are expected to be carrying the kits by September. Dallas officers got the same equipment late last year. Boston police received tourniquets shortly after last year’s marathon attack. New York and Los Angeles are in the process of obtaining them.