It really centered on a 23-year-old South Pasadena police officer who suffered a massive heart attack during a range drill a few years back.
Kevin Sandoval, 23, SoPas police officer, was training on the range one day in 2011 when he said he wasn’t feeling well and then, suddenly, collapsed. Two emergency medical technicians tried to revive Sandoval to no avail.
He died that day, and it drove Sgt. Tony Abdalla, South Pasadena police special enforcement team commander, to think what could’ve been done better or differently through training or equipment.
“Regrettably, for Kevin there was nothing that could’ve been done differently.” Abdalla said during a recent telephone interview. “But when I became the head of our special enforcement team, I wanted to make sure that we were ready by way of training or additional equipment to save a life.”
Specifically, Abdalla wanted to ensure that his personnel could provide life-saving trauma care that was not readily available by trained medical personnel because the situation prohibited such attention.
So, Abdalla created the South Pasadena Tactical Medicine Program.
Abdalla explained in one of the emails about the pioneer medical program that active shooter and terrorism-related events create complex tactical situations where traditional medical resources cannot or will not provide the necessary support due to threats that are occurring in what is known as a “hot zone.” As a result of those tactical dynamics, medical support in those environments are often delayed which results in an increased possibility of death, according to Abdalla.
“I wanted to make sure that our officers had the right equipment and the right training to provide emergency trauma medical care to those injured,” Abdalla said. “I started researching and found what I was looking for.”
The system of care that consistently rose to the top in the department’s research was the Tactical Combat Casualty Care, or TCCC, implanted by the United States Military and originally created by the Navy SEALs.
“Due to wounding patterns in the law enforcement community being remarkably similar to those on the battlefield – … penetrating trauma from gunshot wounds and blast injuries – we chose to adopt and integrate the concepts and principles of TCCC into our new Tactical Medicine program with some minor modifications due to scope of practice issues,” Abdalla said in an email regarding the South Pasadena Tactical Medicine Program introduced in 2014 that has subsequently spread throughout Los Angeles County.
The South Pasadena Police Department has trained several agencies and members of agencies in this specific trauma system, also known as pre-hospital care, including entire departments like Alhambra PD to members of the tactical unit at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Also, police department members receiving the training are from San Marino, Pasadena, Glendale, Glendale Community College, USC Public Safety, San Fernando, Corona, Monrovia and Burbank.
Since the program’s inception, seven lives have been saved directly linked to the training, which included the proper of a tourniquet, according to Abdalla. The South Pasadena Tactical Medicine Program focuses on hemorrhage control, airway management and circulation issues. Moreover, recent advancements in medical equipment such as tourniquets, hemostatic gauze, needle decompression kits, “significantly increase the rate of survivability,” Abdalla said. There have been several training exercises involving other agencies where the emergency care system has been the focus. One such exercise was at the South Pasadena Middle School a few years ago and included fire personnel.
“Since the inception of training … provided by the SPPD’s Special Enforcement Team Tactical Medicine Training Cadre, (383) police officers from (11) regional law enforcement agencies have been trained in the new, life-saving system of care,” Abdalla said in the email. “At the end of the day, all officers in the five regional agencies will be trained in the same system of care and be supported with the same equipment.”
The program is overseen by the volunteer Medical Director and Special Enforcement Team Physician, Dr. Nicholas Greco, who is a practicing emergency room physician at the local trauma center and is specially trained in tactical medicine. Dr. Greco oversees the training, equipment and quality control of the program.
“The program is an important component of public safety,” South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller said. “It provides police officers valuable training and tools to render casualty care for themselves and the public. The program is an excellent example of our police department reaching out to county and state health care professionals and the community to help develop the program. I am very proud of our officers and their ability to share such valuable training.”
When all is said and done, though, Abdalla deflects credit away from himself and back to the haunting memory of that young, 23-year-old South Pasadena police officer who died from a heart attack.
“Nothing could be done for Kevin SandovaI, unfortunately,” Abdalla said. “There were two paramedics right there and they tried to revive him, did everything they could do. It was very sad. But I didn’t want to go to sleep at night worrying that we couldn’t save another person’s life because we didn’t have the proper training or the proper equipment. I wanted to try and change that. That’s the reason I became a police officer. I wanted to save lives, make a difference. That’s what we do here.”