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Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Danny Jones and Christy Hattabaugh of Southwest EMS hold up the vibrantly colored trauma packs for easy location during an emergency. (Ethan Nahté/Pulse)

Southwest EMS donates trauma kits to the sheriff’s office

Article and photos by Ethan Nahté

May is First Responders Month when we honor those who serve the community, be it law enforcement, firefighters (including wildfires), EMS, and even public employees from federal, state and local governments that help get things rolling again when disaster strikes.

And these first responders depend on one another to make it all work and to do their best to protect the community.

Southwest EMS has teamed up with law enforcement. They donated 20 trauma kits to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department back in February 2024. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office had approached the company with a list of items they felt they needed in the field.

Brooke Hines is the community outreach director and human resources manager at Southwest EMS’ corporate office in Mena. She said Southwest EMS told Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer they we would like to do that for the sheriff’s department.

“The sheriff’s office wanted to do something. They came to us and asked us because we have medical suppliers. We just said ‘We will purchase all of them. That way we can do that for you guys.’ It wasn’t through a grant. We just did it.”

Sawyer said, “Most of the deputies have got some basic first aid knowledge… first aid training. I have a few who have advanced. I have one that used to be a paramedic. They all carry their own med bags. It’s stuff they’ve purchased themselves and stocked themselves. Late last year, we had a hunting accident where a young man was shot with a hunting rifle and, because of my deputies, he lived. They had their kits; they were there quick. The one that was a paramedic happen to be really close to the scene and they saved a man’s life that probably wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

“I decided I was going to purchase med bags for them. I approached Robby Hines at Southwest EMS ambulance about his suggestions on contents and maybe sourcing some of the material through him just because I could probably get it cheaper that way. He said, ‘No, I’m buying them. I’ll stock them and I’ll bring them to you.’ That’s how this thing got started.”
Southwest EMS worked on it for a while but there were some supply issues, resulting in the delivery of the kits to take longer than anticipated.

In addition to standard items such as gauze and bandages there are some specific items that they felt would benefit a department that has to cover a lot of rural territory in some rough terrain. Several of the included items are not things one would typically find in a first aid kit found at a retail store. It’s more than just Band-Aids.

“It’s more for those freak accidents,” Hines said.

There are times that law enforcement and first responders may spend hours searching for an accident victim and the location may be so remote that once the victim is found, it may take a while for medical help to arrive, which is why the trauma kits could make all the difference between life and death.

“They went through everything” Sawyer said, “added some stuff that we didn’t have added to it. They bought the bags themselves. They recognized the lives that we’ve saved with our med bags. Robbie just wanted to do it for us, and I appreciate it.

“One of my deputies is a paramedic prior to becoming a deputy. He’s got a lot of medical knowledge. He’s still certified. He’s instructed them on the use of some of the less basic stuff, like using a chest seal.

“I know my paramedic has kept his paramedic license good, so whatever training he has to do through that has kept it good. He’s been a blessing to us because he’s really done a lot. I had four deputies at the shooting last year. They all four did great work until the ambulance service got there. But the paramedic really showed out. He was a very skilled paramedic before he became a deputy.”

The paramedic is Josh Butterworth, who was one of the two deputies who saved the Louisiana man suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on April 21. He and deputy Josh Cain provided lifesaving care until the ambulance could get to their location at the Tall Peak Tower Vista in the Shady community. The ambulance then traveled to a helipad and Air-Evac flew the man to a trauma center. He was expected to live thanks to the deputies.

Southwest EMS also intends to provide more training for Sawyer’s deputies.

“We haven’t set a date for it yet,” Sawyer said, “but Robby has said he would send his instructors out. We’ll sit down and we go through everything. We talk about scenarios and stuff. They did really good with the Narcan training and CPR training with us. They’re the best ambulance service in the state as far as working with law enforcement that I know of. They have been really good to us — Robby and Sherri, and now Brooke.

“The deputies do have CPR and first aid training,” Sawyer said “They get CPR and basic first aid in the police academy. We did a Narcan class a couple years ago. We did CPR a couple years ago. We try to keep our certifications up. Like I said, we’ve got a paramedic on staff and he’s very, very good about showing them little things here and there. After an incident, he’ll talk to them about what he did. We do a lot of in-house training.

“Josh worked for Robby, and then I stole him from Robby. But Robby stole one of my employees, so it kind of worked out,” Sawyer said with a laugh. “Josh is a very good paramedic and he’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s a very good deputy. He’s been a blessing. He was one of the ones that actually made up my list of ‘this is what I would want in a lightweight trauma pack that we can use to save some lives.’”

Kit contents
At the time of the interviews, the sheriff’s department had not used the trauma bags yet because they had just had them for about two weeks, but Sawyer anticipates they’ll get a lot of use. As for some of the items included in the packs, it’s tailored to what they felt was needed for our forests, rivers and mountains.

“We came up with this because they go on so many search-and-rescues,” Hines said. “A lot of the time it is the deputies and the ambulance. They’ve been on some where they hiked in and stayed all night. This is an emergency blanket thing [aka thermal blanket] to keep your body heat in. This is trauma wound dressing.

“This is not something we’d carry on the ambulance, but it would be good if they were on a scene before we got there and were able to cover up the wound so that it didn’t get infected. It would help the patient for later.

“CPR mask,” Hines expressed. “There are so many diseases. This will protect the deputy that’s going to be there.”

“The CPR masks are nice,” Sawyer said. “Most of my guys have got these already, but now they’ve all got another one. Do you know the mask that you put on somebody when you’re bagging them? That’s what it is but it’s got a one-way valve. We can start CPR on somebody and when [the ambulance] gets there, they can just attach their bag straight to this mask. It creates a barrier where we’re not changing body fluids. You’re not getting blood or vomit or whatever else. You just blow in there like in CPR. When they get there with the bag, they hook it straight up and just keep doing it.”

“They’ve got some granules,” Sawyer said. “They call it QuikClot. If you have a wound that’s bleeding pretty heavily you can squirt that stuff in there, it helps coagulate the blood, helps clot, keeps them from bleeding out. A lot of times, if it’s a leg wound, we’re going to use a tourniquet to help control the bleeding. But if it’s up high you can’t get a tourniquet up there sometimes, so this stuff is good. We’ve got some gauze that is impregnated with that QuikClot. If you get a gunshot wound or a puncture wound, you just start shoving gauze down it.
“All sorts of gauzes,” he added. “We use these at wrecks all the time. That’s the scary part — a lot of my deputies are 5 to 10 minutes ahead of the ambulance. There may be a wreck in Cove, so this gives him something to do where we can help save lives. The first 45 minutes in a trauma are really critical.”

Hines ad agreed, “The granules you can put in the wound. It coagulates to stop the bleeding.

“This is a chest seal. After they sent these to us, we actually switched to these because we like them better,” Hines said.

A chest seal will seal on three sides. It’ll allow air to escape during exhalation but prevents air from entering through the injury site. The seal is also ideal for gunshots or knife wounds specifically to the chest.

Sawyer said the chest seal was one that one of his deputies had in his own kit and suggested. “It’s got a valve on it… kind of like a balloon valve if they’ve got a hole in the lung. These things are super sticky. They’ll stick on blood.”

“There’s a tourniquet,” Hines said. “A lot of times if a first responder or deputy goes to a scene, then they can apply that until we get there to stop the bleed.”

“All of my guys carry their own tourniquets,” Sawyer said. “These kits gave them another one. We’ve actually used these multiple times in the last four or five years on people — bad car wrecks with a partially amputated limb. A guy accidentally shot himself in the leg. My guy not only saved his life but saved his leg with it. They’re invaluable.”

Hines concluded, “This is like a stop-the-bleed kit. They do sell those kits, but this is more tailored toward stuff that we see kind of county specific like with our rescues on the hiking trails and ATV trails.”

Easy to see
The trauma packs come in bright, vivid colors so they can easily be found in a patrol vehicle, on the forest floor, or a dwelling, especially in the dark. There are blue, yellow and red packs.
“What we will do is we will standardize where we carry them,” the sheriff said. “They will all be in the front passenger seat… so if the deputy is out and I pull up, I can reach into his car, grab his trauma bag. They’re all pretty much in a standardize location. We all carry Narcan and it’s in the glove box. If I get an office that’s been exposed and I pull up and he’s yelling, ‘Hey, I need Narcan,’ I can just open his glove box, grab his Narcan and take care of it.

“The deputies have not had to use the Narcan yet. They’ve been present a couple of times when the ambulance service has used Narcan. That stuff is just pretty amazing how it works. One minute they’re comatose one minute and 20 seconds later they may be ready to fight. They’re awake and alert.

“It takes very little. I mean, across the state we’ve had dozens of law enforcement officers fall out alongside the road from fentanyl exposure. It’s scary stuff.”

The future of the trauma kits
“We haven’t done anything for the city yet, but we plan to,” Hines said. “We’ve got extras of these, so we can do the same thing for them. We actually are wanting to do it in all four of our counties in Arkansas. We’re [also] in Crawford County, Montgomery County and Sevier County.

“In Sevier County, we’ve donated CPR masks — pediatric and adult, and then we plan to do something like this for the city as well.

“In Crawford County, we’ve replaced their AED (automated external defibrillator) pads. We also actually do that for our first responders in Polk County if they have an AED and they’ve used pads on a patient we have received or have picked up. We’ll replace those AED pads. It’s just something we’ve always done because they’ve helped us with the continuing care of that patient.”

“The sheriff was grateful, as are his deputies. “These things have been great. I can’t thank Robby, Sherri and Brooke Hines enough. They really did a great job with them, and we appreciate it.”

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