On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the Montgomery County Police Tactical Medic Program celebrated the completion of 30 years of service. The event took place at Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, and was attended by both current and former members of the Emergency Response Team, allied agency Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) providers, and their guests. The first TEMS in Montgomery County was formally established in August of 1979 by two now-retired Officers Karl Plitt and Paul Sterling. # # #
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Retired Officer Karl Plitt, one of the architects of the program, proposed the need after a bank robbery occurred at Blair Plaza in Silver Spring in 1979. At that time, there was not a police emergency response team with negotiators and technical support. The Assistant Chief and Director of the Field Services Bureau Thomas McDonald, supported the concept of emergency response beyond SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). Officer Plitt proposed incorporating a medical component, knowing that the military didn’t respond to emergency missions without medic support. McDonald agreed and Plitt sought out Officer Paul Sterling who was, at the time, not only a police officer, but an active member of the Wheaton Rescue Squad. Sterling was one of the first certified EMT’s in the state of Maryland. They worked with Fire Rescue personnel and the fire department protocol to develop what would work best for incorporating Emergency Medical Support (EMS) into Tactical Emergency Medical Support. The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35, also supported the program and provided funds to purchase equipment for the fledgling unit.
The concept of TEMS was almost unheard of thirty years ago. Sterling said, “The early days were really, really tough because it was a new concept to law enforcement. But Karl and I had a real commitment and a strong belief that our own officers as well as civilians in tactical emergency situations needed medical treatment. We kept pushing and pushing for what we believed in.” These two Montgomery County Police Officers had a vision to provide that medical element to those operating in a tactical environment outside the traditional realm of EMS. Today, the inclusion of a well-trained and equipped TEMS unit for all tactical teams is endorsed by the National Tactical Officer’s Association (NTOA). Sterling, who retired in 2005, commented, “Our tactical medics today have full, state-of-the-art equipment for pre-hospital care; and the tactically protective gear for themselves as well.” Current TEMS Sergeant Kevin Parker commented, "We are indebted to Karl and Paul for their forward thinking and persistence. They truly paved the way for tactical medics not only within MCPD but around the country."
In 1982, an incident in Montgomery County validated the importance of having well-trained medical providers who could accompany tactical officers on high-risk operations. Officers responded to a shooting at the IBM building in Bethesda. A former employee had shot numerous people, killing three and injuring nine. It took seven hours before the shooter was taken into custody.
Having police officers there with emergency medical training, made immediate treatment possible of the injured persons, who otherwise would have had to wait until the situation was stabilized and safe enough for Fire and Rescue personnel to provide treatment. After seeing the tremendous benefit first-hand, the program was expanded.
Officers with previous Emergency Medical Technician certification through the Fire Service were first sought to join the team. The Tactical Medics received specialized training from the Tactical Section and were incorporated into special operations such as raids, barricades, and hostage rescue. Those Tactical Medics were the pioneers in the law enforcement special operations medicine community.
In March of 2000, it was the Montgomery County TEMS that was requested to assist Baltimore County and Maryland State Police after Joseph Palczynski had killed four people and held a family of three hostage in Dundalk for several days. Plitt and Sterling said, “Our Tactical Medics rotated working 12-hour shifts because Baltimore County had no Tactical Medics and Maryland State Police had just begun their program and couldn’t staff an incident of that length.”
It has been the Montgomery County Police Department’s Tactical Medic Program that has provided logistical support and instructors for the Department of Defense, Counter Narcotics, and Terrorism Operational Medical Support (CONTOMS) EMT – Tactical Training course. This Bethesda-based federal program has trained hundreds of our country’s tactical medical providers, from the EMT to physician level, in medical and tactical operations under the Department of Homeland Security. Montgomery County Police Tactical Medics continue to serve as faculty.
The training for Tactical Medics is extensive with continuing education requirements to remain proficient. Each Medic is required to ride as a provider on an EMS unit one shift per month to maintain clinical skills. The MCPD Tactical Medics also receive training from military and civilian resources to address trauma management, care of patients in the tactical environment and occupational health issues. They participate as well in a quarterly training sponsored by the Maryland State Police.
Today, the MCPD Tactical Medic Program consists of Emergency Medical Technicians-Basics, National registry EMT-Paramedics, and physicians. The program is led by a full-time Sergeant/Paramedic from the Emergency Services Section in the Special Operations Division, Kenneth Holt. All of the remaining Medic positions are part-time with the officers holding various full-time positions throughout the department. The members of the Tactical Medic Program are proud of their service to the department and are focused on leading tactical medicine-related training and operations well into the future.
Plitt, who retired at the beginning of 2003, said, “I am very proud of these guys (members of the TEMS). Their skill levels are way up. They can now respond across jurisdictional lines, which was formerly not the case. Their accomplishments are incredible.”
Director of the Special Operations Division Captain Luther Reynolds added, “I am very impressed and pleased with the efforts of the leaders who have contributed such vision, passion and expertise, for the sole purpose of saving lives. These officers spend their own time acquiring outstanding skills, to prepare themselves to serve with substance and excellence in the realm of field medicine and first aid in the most challenging of all circumstances.”