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North Vancouver veteran trains medics in Ukraine

Tactical combat casualty care can prevent death from injuries suffered in a war zone

When Jared Reynolds served a tour of Afghanistan with the Canadian military in 2009-2010, one of his roles in a platoon providing security to supply convoys was a back-up level medic for casualties in the field.

As a soldier trained in Tactical Combat Casualty Care, Reynolds was ready to help the medics in a pinch.

Fast forward years later, and as a District of North Vancouver firefighter Reynolds is using those skills as an instructor for that kind of trauma care here on the North Shore – though these days it’s more likely to involve an accident on a mountain bike trail than a rocket explosion.

Recently, however, Reynolds got to take his training back closer to a war zone – this time helping others provide care in Ukraine’s deadly conflict.

Training medics in Ukraine

Last month, Reynolds was one of six Canadian firefighters and paramedics, who are also military veterans, who went to Ukraine to train emergency responders there in combat casualty care.

“I was looking at what’s happening in Ukraine and feeling like this was kind of the closest thing to World War Two in my lifetime, with a global power invading an independent country,” he said. “I was looking for an opportunity to help.”

Reynolds discovered that a Canadian charity, Firefighter Aid Ukraine, had already sent instructors to Ukraine to teach the kind of casualty care he specializes in. Soon after, he contacted the co-ordinator of the program in Edmonton and went through a process of being checked out by the group.

Last month, he flew to Poland and crossed the border to western Ukraine, where he taught three tactical combat casualty care courses to about 100 students over a 10-day period.

With airports closed in Ukraine, Reynolds and other members of his team first had to fly into Poland and cross the border on foot, carrying their supplies through multiple checkpoints.

Once set up in Ukraine, the people Reynolds helped train included firefighters, emergency services personnel, and others attached to groups tasked with removing landmines.

While some of those people might end up treating battlefield injuries, others will likely help civilians who are either being deliberately targeted or drawn into the conflict.

Skills Reynolds taught included “how to use things like tourniquets, pressure dressings, how to do things like doing needle decompression,” he said. In Canada, it’s not often a firefighter would be called upon to perform some of that first aid, said Reynolds, but “in Ukraine, they don’t have the luxury of ‘We’ll just take you to a hospital.’ Maybe the hospital just got bombed,” he said.

Skills can help save lives

Skills taught in the Tactical Combat Casualty Care course are focused on saving lives in situations where deaths are preventable – if the injured get cared for in time.

Compared to the wartime situation he saw in Afghanistan, those in the Ukraine are at a disadvantage when it comes to evacuating wounded people, said Reynolds.

In Afghanistan, Canadian forces could usually bring in a helicopter if someone was injured and evacuate them quickly to a field hospital. In Ukraine, however, “Russia has so much weaponry they can use in the air, that’s not an option,” he said. “So, most of their patients are having to be evacuated with vehicles.”

With a lot of transportation having to take place at night in Ukraine, “They might not get there for 24 hours,” he said. “It’s a big difference if a patient is in your care for two hours versus 20 hours.”

Some of the newly trained casualty medics have been pushed into roles they never imagined being in, added Reynolds. “You’ll have a doctor who was working as an ophthalmologist. And now all of a sudden [they’re] a trauma doctor,” he said. “Because there’s just no one else.”

The recent medic training isn’t the first time Reynolds has pitched in to help in Ukraine.

Earlier projects shipped field hospital, medical supplies

Earlier in the conflict, Reynolds was instrumental in getting a surplus NATO-grade field hospital that had been sitting in storage in North Vancouver shipped over to Ukraine.

Shipping of the 200 beds and other life-saving supplies to the front lines, a project dubbed “Operation Hawkeye,” was led by the Defend Ukraine Foundation (Canada). A portion of the $14,000 cost to ship the field hospital was covered by two North Van fire charities: District of North Vancouver Fire Fighters Charitable Society and IAFF 1183 Charitable.

A second project involved Reynolds taking about 500 pounds of outdated medical gear that he’d found stashed in a West Vancouver firehall as far as Poland. “I started to kind of look for all these old caches, because this stuff gets replaced and doesn’t get destroyed. It just sits there until someone does something with it,” he said.

A third project involved sending winter clothing gathered from the North Shore over to areas of Ukraine where power grids had been knocked out.

This latest project, however, was the first time Reynolds entered the country.

As a former soldier, it’s a conflict that weighs heavily on him.

The conflict in Ukraine has fallen out of the news “because it’s been going on for so long,” he said. “But I feel like Ukraine is fighting the rest of the world’s fight. And I’m disappointed in Canada and I’m disappointed in a lot of the Western countries for not doing more.

“Everyone’s [saying], ‘It’s not my country. So it’s not really my problem.… Where does this end if Russia goes through Ukraine? Do they keep going?”

When he fought in Afghanistan, “I had an end date,” said Reynolds. “And I flew to another country to represent Canada and fight in a war. But these people are fighting in their back yards. Their home was invaded. So it just feels different. It’s obviously personal.”

Reynolds said there’s a need for more medical training, and volunteers are ready to go to Ukraine. But more money is needed to buy the medical supplies that get donated and to pay to get the supplies and trainers to Ukraine.  

Anyone interested can find more information at firefighteraidukraine.com

jseyd@nsnews.com
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