Spokane Police Officers Sharpen Their Medical Triage Skills

Apr 3, 2021

Spokane Police Officer Scott Lesser uses a manikin to show his colleagues how to clear a choking baby's airway during training on Friday.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Police officers have broad job descriptions these days. Not only do they look for and investigate crime, but they’re also asked to be social workers and mediators. And, on occasion, they also serve as emergency medical technicians.

Last week, some Spokane officers went through a new round of medical training.

In a conference room at the Spokane Police Department’s Training Academy, officers in masks listen as one of their colleagues, Paul Buchmann, goes over the fine points of administering Narcan. That’s the medicine officers carry with them in case they encounter someone who has overdosed.

"The stuff that we carry, the nasal mist, is not immediate. You’re not going to squirt it in and have them sit up immediately," he said.

Until recent years, administering Narcan was not part of an officer’s job. Neither was applying a tourniquet or packing gauze into a wound. After his session with officers, Buchmann says policing agencies have realized they can serve as a bridge on calls when trained medics are dispatched.

“That little bit of time from when we get on scene and render the scene safe or determine that the suspect’s already left or whatever. We’ve taken care of our law enforcement role. There’s always going to be that lag time. Or we’ve had several times too where we just happen upon something because we are out on patrol," he said.

And when they get there, Buchmann says officers should have enough tools that they can at least start the medical process.

“There’s nothing worse than being on a scene and seeing someone literally dying in front of you and having nothing to help them. Everybody in law enforcement, for the most part, gets into it to help people and I know that I’ve had times in my career where that has happened where you feel so helpless. Now to be able to have some of these tools on your person or in your car that you can do something to have a positive impact is very rewarding," he said.

After the classroom work, a small group of officers joins instructor Scott Lesser for CPR practice. Lesser rests an infant manikin on his forearm, his hand and wrist supporting the head and neck, for a lesson about how to clear the airway of a choking child.

“We want to make sure that we’re holding this child on a downward angle and use gravity to our advantage. We’re going to give those five back blows on the back, three, four five. Actually smack it pretty good and then we’re going to reach with our other hand. Support the head and then we’re doing five chest compressions," he said.

He hands the manikin to another officer to practice those compressions.

Officer Paul Buchmann says his colleagues are taught basic skills and given yearly refreshers. In their cars, along with their firearms and other tactical gear, they carry medical supplies in case they’re called upon to serve as temporary medics.