ATF Medics: Practiced And Prepared

May 17, 2017

He wants to learn the skills, but he hopes he will never have to use them. Because when he does, Daniel Shirley knows the situation will most likely be volatile and could make the difference between life and death.

A Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Shirley is a certified fire investigator and he’s also a medic. The medic program is another layer to the ATF – a US Department of Justice law enforcement agency - and requires additional training.

Shirley, who is based in Indianapolis, joins an elite group of more than 70 specially trained medics from across the country. Seven of those medics traveled to Indianapolis for a three-day training this week that included a no-cost session in the IU Health cadaver lab under the guidance and tutoring of experts with IU Health Methodist Hospital Level 1 Trauma Center.

“There are some kinds of emergencies that are life-threatening. If you don’t address it immediately, there is a chance that the patient won’t stay alive,” said IU Health Methodist trauma medical director Dr. Stephanie Savage, a military veteran who served tours of duty as a U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon in both Afghanistan and Iraq and trained medics preparing for deployment. “The folks who are first responders are kind of high performers to begin with. Some skills are difficult and some are actually scary but they don’t hesitate to try.”

IU Health’s cadaver lab experience allows the medics, who are typically trained to perform lifesaving procedures using synthetic mannequins, the rare opportunity to practice and perfect these skills on far more realistic human cadavers—bodies that have been donated for scientific research and medical education purposes.

Not only do they practice life-saving techniques, they also receive practical advice: “You could be working on a victim on the ground and you’re on your knees trying to avoid gunfire and stabilizing the patient at the same time,” said Instructor Aaron Jeanette, a paramedic. “You need to plan ahead.”

With at least 10 years of experience each, these medics are part of a topnotch group of first responders who work under less than ideal conditions.

Similar to Savage’s military experience, the ATF medics have been on the scene of such newsworthy events as the apprehension of the Boston Bomber and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They are typically summoned anytime there is a search warrant issued and a scene has the potential to erupt in violence. Medics are also on the scene of such high-risk situations as home invasion investigations, robberies, buy/bust undercover operations, high-risk surveillance, and quick reaction or response to natural disasters and public safety concerns. These special agents are trained to provide basic and advanced medical support for the ATF Special Response Team (SRT). Their mission: To protect the public, the Bureau’s agents, other law enforcement officers, and the suspects.

“If there is a dangerous scene such as a shooting, civilian EMS may not be able to respond because of inherent danger,” said Shirley. “We are there to bridge the gap between the dangerous situation and transition to safety. Time is of essence so anytime we can hone our skills, the better we become at our jobs.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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