San Antonio Fire Department receives innovative medical training to save trauma victims

SAFD’s EMS program will soon be celebrating 50 years of service, with 49 of those years partnered with UT Health San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Fire Department Emergency Medical Services Division has hundreds of highly trained medical personnel.

The department, monitored by UT Health San Antonio staff, is taught cutting-edge medical procedures in the classroom to respond to whatever emergencies they come across in the city.

KSAT Investigates was given exclusive access to one of those classes.

Continuing education classes

“If you don’t do the life-saving, and you don’t get them to the trauma center, the patient cannot be saved,” said CJ Winckler, an associate professor at UT Health San Antonio, to a group of adult learners with SAFD.

It’s a small window of time the men and women of the San Antonio Fire Department have to respond and save someone who’s experienced life-threatening trauma.

“To save the patient, we need to be good at our job. And I know we’re good at our job,” Winckler said.

On top of his duties with UT Health San Antonio, Winckler is one of the deputy medical directors at SAFD. He allowed KSAT Investigates to sit in on this continuing education class filled with veterans of San Antonio’s finest.

“What I just lectured about for the last hour are some of the nuances: How can we do this better for trauma care?” Winckler said.

His presentation titled ‘Trauma Tactics for Critically Injured” covered all kinds of injuries seen by the SAFD.

Winckler discussed things like blunt force trauma from car crashes or penetrating trauma from stabbings or gunshots.

“San Antonio has its fair share of those types of injuries. And we have to be prepared as a department to treat those injuries to the best of our ability,” he explained.

Innovative medicine

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teams get that training in an unused space at the Wonderland of the Americas mall.

They have access to an ambulance simulator to practice procedures in, realistic manikins, and touch screen simulations of a human body.

In these classes, Winckler teaches EMS crews to think outside the box and perform life-saving procedures in the field that you would typically only see in a hospital.

“We are the wind passed the tip of the spear. These concepts are novel — obviously tried and true in the hospital, but novel in the pre-hospital setting,” Winckler said.

Winckler ran his team through three separate medical case scenarios. He discussed pre-hospital procedures, the importance of a quick response, and highlighted the success they’ve seen with their whole blood program.

He’s pulling from situations they’ve faced, from the extreme with the Robb Elementary School massacre to the everyday cases they face around San Antonio.

“Uvalde mass shooting, 20 units of whole blood on scene within 39 minutes. Seventeen by helicopter, three by EMS,” Winckler said.

“If someone is shot in the head, isolated GSW to the head, sometimes they live, sometimes they don’t,” he continued.

The classroom techniques are getting put to the test. Winckler said they’re responding to more and more calls of violence at all hours of the day.

In part two of this series, KSAT Investigates rides along with a medic officer as he responds to calls for gun violence.

About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

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