Education

Beaufort County paramedic wants to arm teachers across the US — but not with guns

Correction: This story has been corrected to show Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District installed kits at Coosa Elementary.

With school safety in the spotlight after a suburban Florida high school shooting killed 17 people last month, companies are capitalizing on their moment in the marketplace, tempting school districts with a plethora of pricey safety measures — bulletproof whiteboards, door armor and hallway smoke cannons, to name a few.

Meanwhile, a lieutenant paramedic for Burton Fire District has come up with a simple measure — arming teachers with tourniquets to stop bleeding in the event of a school shooting — that could save students’ lives.

Dan Byrne implemented the low-budget, gun-free idea at a few Beaufort County public schools for the first time this school year. It attracted little attention outside the county.

Then tragedy struck Parkland.

Byrne is now fielding calls from school districts and fire departments across the country — and he isn’t earning a penny from his proposal.

The Burton Fire District relied on donations and grants to get the $45 kits into schools within the district’s jurisdiction. The kits debuted at Broad River Elementary at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Byrne said he had a pipe dream of his concept “maybe going countywide.”

Since the Valentine's Day shooting in Florida, Byrne said he receives an average of three to four calls or emails each day from agencies across the country asking how to start their own version of the program.

California is calling. So are Miami, Kansas City and cities across South Carolina. Byrne ticked off Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and Pennsylvania among the inquiries he’s received.

“No matter how fast (paramedics) train, how hard we train, there will be a delay in responding to a student being shot,” he said. “We will lose children from treatable, survivable injuries. You just cannot overcome that time.”

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The Jacob kits are placed near the classroom's door for teachers' and emergency responders' easy access. Submitted by Burton Fire District Lottie Campenella

Byrne speaks with 25 years of experience in emergency services.

“I’ve gotten there too late, too many times,” he said.

What Byrne says separates his idea from similar proposals is what comes with the kit. Certified paramedics train teachers on how to use the kit to care for critically injured children and will continue to provide annual training.

Each kit houses a tourniquet, two chest seals, bandages, trauma shears and two sets of medical gloves.

Byrne and his wife — Angela, a longtime Broad River Elementary School teacher — remember sitting in their living room watching the news of the Townville Elementary School shooting in 2016.

“I’m not sure what it was about Townville that stirred me,” Angela said. “When I saw the picture come up on the TV, it really dawned on me, wow, what would I do (in that situation)?”

Her husband said he would buy her a tourniquet to keep in her classroom.

But what if the student being shot was in a different classroom, she asked him.

His answer: put a tourniquet in every classroom.

And the trauma kits were born, with Byrne naming them “Jacob kits,” in honor of 6-year old Jacob Hall, who died three days after the Townville shooting from blood loss. A bullet hit his leg while he was on the playground.

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Each Jacob kit includes a tourniquet, two chest seals, bandages, trauma shears and two sets of medical gloves. Submitted by Burton Fire District Lottie Campenella

Each classroom gets a kit, and so do school common areas, such as the cafeteria, auditorium and library.

The Burton Fire District raised enough money to install kits at Whale Branch Elementary and Davis Elementary. They will do the same for Joseph Shanklin Elementary next month, he said. Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District headed the effort to get the kits into Coosa Elementary.

But more than two dozen other public schools lack Jacob kits.

Representatives for other county fire departments said they were aware of Burton’s pilot program and are working to have schools within their jurisdiction receive the kits and training.

“We’re all very much excited to make this happen,” Bluffton Township Fire District Capt. Lee Levesque said, mentioning a meeting last week with county leaders on this topic.

He, along with Beaufort Fire Chief Reece Bertholf and Hilton Head Island Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Joheida Fister are eyeing a bill working its way through the S.C. Legislature that would install kits in all South Carolina school classrooms. The House Education and Public Works committee plans a hearing on the bill in early April, where Byrne says a group of teachers, firefighters and EMTs will testify.

“Everyone’s trying to find funding to start this awesome program at such a monumental time,” Levesque said.

It’s a time when schools seem on edge with potential threats reported weekly, if not daily.

In the two-and-a-half weeks since the Parkland shooting, Broad River Elementary had two modified lockdowns.

“It’s on everyone’s mind,” Angela Byrne said. “We are the first line of defense. (With these kits) we can buy time for these students of ours if the unthinkable happens … I don’t feel helpless anymore.”

Kelly Meyerhofer: 843-706-8136, @KellyMeyerhofer

To donate or get more information:

  • Email safetyed@burtonfd.org
  • Visit the Jacob Kit Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SCJACOBkit/.
  • Burton Fire District will host a free public "Stop the Bleed" training — the same training the district provides to teachers — March 31 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Grays Hill Fire Station, 14 Bruce K Smalls Drive. Classes are limited to 20 people. Email safetyed@burtonfd.org to reserve a seat.

  • Burton Fire District will provide this free public training to any business or group at their location as well.

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