SAFD’s groundbreaking program has offered 1,000 units of whole blood in the field

San Antonio now teaching cities nationwide how to do mobile blood transfusions

SAN ANTONIO - – A San Antonio Fire Department program is now the gold standard across the country, making whole blood available on ambulances and at trauma scenes.

Three years ago, San Antonio mom Tiffany Kieschnick was driving to the store to get her son iced tea.

“I ended up having a stroke on my way home, and I flipped my car into a ditch and coded in the car. The paramedics actually said that they were shocked when I came back to life,” she said.

San Antonio EMS had just begun carrying whole blood to trauma scenes to allow for immediate transfusions.

“Had they not had whole blood on that ambulance, I was not going to make it,” she said.

Kieschnick was the first patient to receive whole blood in the field, not just in San Antonio but in the nation. That’s because SAFD created the program in late 2018.

“When I came up as a paramedic, the only thing we could do was start IVs,” said SAFD Chief Charles Hood.

Fire Chief Charles Hood confirmed his crews just administered the 1,000th unit of whole blood in the field, a huge milestone.

“Whether it’s a shooting, stabbing, automobile accident -- we can transport blood to the scene,” Hood said.

Eight SAFD units carry the whole blood on board. They can either drive it out to a scene or administer it right inside the ambulance.

The blood is from the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, and SAFD keeps the bags in rigorously tested coolers. They keep the temperature of the blood viable for the whole 24-hour shift.

“It’s about the same size which you’d find in an IV bag. So instead of receiving IV fluids, they can receive whole blood. If you touch it, it’s actually kind of cold, and you don’t want to put cold blood in someone’s body,” said SAFD Engineer Roy Zamora.

“So we have a warmer that we use here. The blood will run through the tubing and then to the warmer here,” SAFD Engineer Samuel Guzman explained.

Zamora and Guzman said the process could take 5-10 minutes.

“Our youngest patient was 2 years old, and the oldest patient was 97, for both traumatic injuries and medical injuries,” said SAFD EMS Medic Officer Lt. William Bullock.

The successful process has caught the attention of cities and agencies across the nation.

“I’ve been in contact with the outside agencies, as well as the Department of Defense. So it’s really gone global at this point,” said Bullock.

Lt. Bullock has taken calls from Austin, Seattle, Oklahoma City, and even New York City asking for training.

SAFD is holding a training next week to teach other large cities across the country about carrying whole blood.

“I had some folks reach out to me from different countries, different states, asking me if I would go on and do a blog with them about it because they wanted to get their cities and states involved,” Kieschnick said.

She had kept in contact with everyone involved in saving her life that night three years ago, and she’s gone even further to help others.

“Try to host blood drives. I stay in contact with the blood bank. If you have the opportunity to go and donate, please do it. It doesn’t take a lot of time,” Kieschnick said.

Chief Hood said they are also preparing to be able to use the system for mass casualty events.

“This wasn’t available yet for Sutherland Springs. If we were to have those capabilities, we could take blood to somewhere else in the region, fly it out there, take it to the scene and take it to the hospitals to better take care of those mass casualty victims,” Hood said.

He said they flew blood to Uvalde during the mass shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary.

“It ended up going to the hospital. There was no real opportunities to use it on the scene. But those are things that we’re planning for in the near future,” Hood said.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.