Local Firefighter Equips Teachers To Stop Life Threatening Bleeding

Jan 8, 2020

Local firefighter Nathan Kunasek has started a non-profit organization to train the community in techniques to stop life threatening bleeding. He feels passionately that all educators can and should be first responders to emergencies. KLCC went to a training at Malabon Elementary School in Eugene’s Bethel District. 

Eugene/Springfield Firefighter Nathan Kunasek leads a Stop the Bleed training with Malabon Elementary School teachers.
Credit Aubrey Bulkeley

Among the book displays of Captain Underpants and Pete the Cat, Kunasek teaches Malabon’s staff hemorrhage control techniques.

Kunasek starts out by showing a clip of CPR training from The Office which helps lighten a heavy subject.

Kunasek weaves humor and heart throughout his training without sugarcoating the realities involved with trauma.

“Unfortunately if something occurred, you’re already here, you are in the best position to help someone who’s injured,” said Kunasek. “So, why not put the knowledge and tools in your hands where you can make a difference. You could be the stop gap between the time an injury occurs till paramedics arrive on scene.”

Kunasek teaches Malabon staff wound packing techniques where gauze is stuffed into the wound to apply pressure in areas where tourniquets are less effective.
Credit Aubrey Bulkeley

Kunasek is a Eugene/Springfield firefighter and a father of two. He was struck by the realization that emergency services would struggle to reach kids in school shootings fast enough. A person can only lose about half of their blood volume before it becomes life threatening.

“My children only have about 2 liters of blood in them which means they can lose one liter. That’s one of the things that got me passionate about teaching the teachers in schools is that if my child and I receive the same injury, they will bleed to death three and a half time faster than I will,” Kunasek said.

He’s established a non-profit, Bleed Safe of Lane County and trained over a thousand community members, who are often the first people at an emergency scene, in hemorrhage control.

It’s the process of applying direct pressure similar to CPR chest compressions to specific points in the arms and legs to stop the flow of blood. This means using a tourniquet, hands or knees or packing gauze into the wound.  

“Those compressions prolong that person’s life until more definitive care arrives. So applying direct pressure is the most immediate thing a civilian can do for someone who has serious hemorrhaging.”

Kunasek supervises Malabon staff as they practice a technique of applying pressure on key areas to stop bleeding until a tourniquet arrives. It takes an immense amount of pressure to push through the layers of muscle and tissue to thoroughly compress the veins to stop blood flow.

He uses techniques of Stop the Bleed, a program developed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when many of the victims died from blood loss. The Hartford Consensus followed with recommendations of how to improve victim survival in incidents of mass violence. In October 2015 Obama’s White House began an awareness campaign to train the public in hemorrhage control techniques. 

Kunasek says data from the Department of Defense shows when one tourniquet is applied to a soldier’s arm it controls the bleeding 90 percent of the time. If applied to a leg it is 70 percent effective. If needed, a second tourniquet can be added which increases the effectiveness.

After seeing Kunasek run a training for Eugene/Springfield firefighters, City of Eugene Safety Manager Paul Furnari wanted to spread this knowledge.

Trauma is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 45. That can come from traffic crashes, falls, industrial accidents, all sorts of situations.”

Since then Kunasek has trained roughly 150 city staff ranging from urban forestry employees using chainsaws to Hult Center ushers.

Furnari is also looking ahead to when Eugene hosts the Olympic Trials and World Track Championships over the next couple years.

“We’re always having events where large numbers of folks are coming in to our community. You never know what’s going to happen. So, having as many people as possible trained in these techniques will have the best possibility to save lives.”

Furnari hopes to offer classes through the city’s community programming in the near future.

The training at Malabon Elementary wraps up with teachers practicing on each other.

Before Kunasek’s first training with educators, he was reminded this audience was different.

“Teachers are not police officers and firefighters. I’ve been nothing but impressed with our school teachers. They wanted to be empowered to make a difference because they realized they are the ones there if something ever happened.”

Malabon staff practice on child size dummies.

Principal Maureen Spence is pleased with the turn out, nearly two thirds of staff participated.

“With knowledge and with practice we can have more skills that we can use in an unfortunate situation that might save a life.”

And second grade teacher Windy Leona.

“I have two kids at home and I trust that when they go to school that people around them will take care of them. So, I do the same for my students.”

Each staff member in attendance received a hemorrhage control kit to keep in their classroom. The kits include two tourniquets, two Israeli bandages with 8 rolls of gauze, a pair of trauma sheers and an instructional card with reminders of what to do.
Credit Aubrey Bulkeley

Each participant received a hemorrhage control kit to keep in their classroom thanks to a Malabon parent who covered the cost of the supplies.

Kunasek donates his time because his personal goal is to teach and provide equipment for all school staff in the area. Starting Bleed Safe of Lane County will make it easier for Kunasek to raise the support needed to provide kits for local school staff.