Where can I get medical training to help people hurt protesting?
September 5, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I am planning to go to at least one protest that seems like it has a chance of turning violent. I really hope it doesn't, and I am frankly terrified at the possibility, but I want to be prepared if something happens. I absolutely do not plan to use violence myself, but I support people fighting white supremacists, including those using physical force. if people -- bystanders, peaceful protestors, Antifa, whomever -- are hurt by Nazis I want to help them. Where can I learn how to do this?

Where is the best place to learn the medical techniques that would be helpful in an emergency situation? I believe the term I want is "street medic" but I am not having a lot of luck finding specifics on how to get this training. A generic first aid class? Internet research? Are there groups that work on this? I am in the DC area -- is there maybe a group of DC Antifa that provides this kind of training or would know where I should go? Again, I absolutely do not plan to use violence myself and wouldn't know how if I wanted to, which I don't, but I want to help. If you would prefer to email me, I can be reached at sockity.puppet@gmail.com. Thank you very much for any suggestions you can provide.
posted by sockity sock sock to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Wilderness First Aid is basically first aid training for when 911 isn't available. It often focuses on things like broken bones and bad cuts. You might want to look into any local outdoor groups that offer it.

They will also most likely review any Good Samaritan laws in your area, or lack of them. You should be aware of these if they exist and what limitations they may have based on whatever level of training you acquire.
posted by bondcliff at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Red Cross offers several levels of first aid classes.
posted by tman99 at 8:39 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have been to dozens (more than a hundred?) protests in my life and have seen it all from 20 seniors holding signs to the WTO protest in Seattle. I was in Berkeley last weekend for example.

Yes, street medic trainings are great if you're interested. You could also look into nonviolence trainings or civil disobedience trainings. Search facebook or contact event organizers for info on how to find these locally.

If you want to avoid getting directly into contact with bad stuff at protests, I can share some basic advice:

- The majority of the time, there is no violence or vandalism whatsoever.

- When there is rambunctiousness, the great majority of the time, you can easily step away into another area if things get tense or confrontational.

- When there is planned civil disobedience, that group will usually announce what they're doing so you can get away from that area if you want.

- On occasion, in large crowded protests, or when there is civil disobedience planned, or when there is vandalism or confrontation, militarized police will come in. Take this as your cue to leave. Once they are there, they sometimes corral people who don't want to be there. Tear gas and scary jostling can happen. If you are stuck, stay calm, stick with whoever you came in with. You can bring goggles and a bandana if you are afraid of tear gas.

- In the case of racists and nazis coming to assault and harm people: again, go to another part of the demonstration so you are not standing near their area. Go with a friend and stick together, especially as you are leaving the march and going back to your car/home/whatever.

If you do want to confront nazis and white supremacists, be realistic with yourself about the fact that many of them are armed. Find a friend or a small group of friends to stick with. Consider protective clothing. Have an escape plan if things get too far.

Good on you for standing up against this shit even though it's a new experience and you have a reasonable and healthy fear of it.
posted by latkes at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

Each state is different and it might not be available where you are, but if you want to get a bit deeper into the training (with the time and money involved), some community colleges offer "EMT-B" or Emergency Medical Technician - Basic training course. It's the entry-level training to become an EMT.

The one I took many years ago at Mesa Community College (link here as an example) was a six credit hour course lasting over a single semester. Those going into the field (I wasn't) could take the certification exam at the end of the course to become an entry-level EMT.
posted by darkstar at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there an anarchist organization in DC? It seems like there's a somewhat active branch of the IWW? Or a general info email for the DSA? Those are some types of people who would know someone who would know.

Also, contact the protest organizers or co-sponsors. They will be in touch with any organized street medic response, and they will probably be looking for help. If you're connected with them, you won't be alone at the protest.

I'm going to differ with latkes and say that it's perfectly useful to have this training and the connections to use it. It's always better to be prepared and not need it, and also basic first aid training (with some protest specifics) is useful in other areas of life. Also, even if you are only ever in peaceful protests, honestly, I've seen plenty of little accidents at those - nothing sinister, just that people fall down, or cut themselves, or have an allergy attack, and having someone around who has a kit and is calm and not bleeding is very useful.

Also, it's a good way to meet people and get more connections in such an environment, which keeps everyone safer. Structure and social connections make protests safer and better.
posted by Frowner at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're in the DC area? Memail me!
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2017

Just to clarify, I think it's a great idea to get street med and/or nonviolent training if you're interested.
posted by latkes at 9:02 AM on September 5, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for the answers so far; to clarify, I'm looking for information that is as specific as possible for street medic training in the Washington, DC area (I have a car so Maryland or Virginia would be okay). My best case scenario would be someone linking to a page with signups for one of these trainings although I recognize that this may not be possible. Thanks again for the help!

For context, one of the events I'm considering attending is the Mother of All Rallies (same weekend as the March of the Juggalos). Per Frowner's answer, how would I get in touch with organizers or anyone coordinating a response? I don't really know what's going on or how to find out.
posted by sockity sock sock at 9:05 AM on September 5, 2017

I did my CERT training via Serve DC, which should give you the basics for first aid and medical ops.
posted by evoque at 9:08 AM on September 5, 2017

Except that it sounds like WidgetAlley can hook you up, I would start with contacting the DSA or BLM DC - those people will definitely be bringing people to any counter demonstration (so will the IWW, of course, but DSA and BLM are bigger). Also check out their facebook pages. They may be security-conscious and want a few more details from you, or suggest contacting a third party (or they may not - we're well past "let's all be secure" at this point in time). That is normal if it happens - it's not about you.
posted by Frowner at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Contact DC Street Medics to ask: https://www.facebook.com/dcstreetmedics/

Good on ya. Several years of street medic organizing, teaching, and practice were really important to me. You definitely learn skills that are taught nowhere else.
posted by entropone at 9:53 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Getting basic CPR and First Aid training is likely to be all that you need. You can do that anywhere in DC. Check the Red Cross website for classes. This is DC, and there will be plenty of police and first responders available very quickly who can provide expert, trained medical care.
posted by yarly at 11:01 AM on September 5, 2017

Also just chiming in to say, while CPR and First Aid training are great and I would strongly recommend them, they are not (based on my limited experience) sufficient for street medic needs. You can start there, but you will need more. You will also need to know how to deal with potential situations where you are called on to de-escalate conflict, your legal rights, how to watch what the cops are doing so you can be ready when they bring out anti-riot technology, how to stay safe in crowds, how to treat tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, foam projectiles, real gunshot wounds (very unlikely but better safe than sorry), triage mental health care for PTSD and panic, and, most of all, heat exhaustion and hypothermia. These are all things a good street medic training can provide you with, but I learned almost none of them (yes, even heat exhaustion relief!) in my CPR/first aid/EMR classes.

Furthermore, CPR, First Aid, and CERT all teach you that you can rely on the authorities and that you are a civilian ally to the police. Obviously, that territory changes a LOT if you are a street medic at a protest.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:16 AM on September 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

How much time / effort / money do you want to devote to this? I mean, that's sort of the determining factor, aside from thinking more about the specifics of the situation and what you want to be able to do.

Very roughly (and this varies by state, and is only loosely harmonized across VA / MD / DC) your options include things like:
  • First Aid (including CPR and use of an AED) - 6 hours, via American Red Cross. I'd call this basic "adulting skills", but a good starting point.
  • Wilderness First Aid - 16 hours, via NOLS. I haven't personally taken this, but know people who have; it has some interesting stuff specific to environments where a hospital isn't a few minutes' drive away.
  • First Responder / Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) - 60 hours plus CPR plus hands-on testing, felony conviction disqualifies from certification in most states, typically via a state agency, e.g. VA Dept of Health, or DC's, actual state certification generally requires sponsorship by an EMS organization. Basic noninvasive, supportive care, particularly for trauma. This might be basically what you want to look into. You could get the training and then not become formally certified, if you wanted to, although you need to consult local laws and see how this might adversely affect your "Good Samaritan" legal standing. This is the most basic level of certification in most rural / suburban volunteer fire departments, in my experience.
  • Wilderness First Responder - 80 hrs (9-10 days fulltime), via NOLS. Similar to the above but with an emphasis on longer injury-to-hospitalization times and improvised transport.
  • EMT Basic (EMT-B) - 110+ hrs classroom plus CPR plus internship (typically 24hr ER / 72hr field) plus hands-on testing, felony conviction disqualifies from certification in most states, typically via a state agency which accredits courses; info for Virginia here. Covers basic prehospital supportive care with an emphasis on typical urban/suburban "treat and transport" scenarios. This is the typical qualification in many rural / suburban fire / EMS departments and the minimum qualification in many well-funded ones (e.g. Fairfax Co. VA, not sure about DC though).
  • Wilderness EMT - Wilderness version of the above. Available as an upgrade to EMT-B (5 days fulltime). There seem to be multiple curricula without a clear national standard.
  • EMT Intermediate (sometimes "EMT Advanced" or AEMT, it changed recently) - ~250 hours classroom plus CPR plus internship; not popular in my area so I don't know too much about it TBH. Adds IV fluid therapies and limited additional drugs to the EMT-B skillset.
  • Paramedic (sometimes "EMT-Paramedic") - varies but typically 600-1300 didactic hours, 320+ hospital hours, 260+ field internship hours, often delivered as an Associates degree program, partnership with EMS agency sometimes needed or very desirable. Covers everything EMR and EMT-B, AEMT do, plus IV and donor-blood therapies, various drugs (largely cardiac), use of manual defibrillators, pacers, EKG analysis, intubation, severe trauma management (chest decomp.), other cool stuff. Typically ~6mo fulltime to 12mo part-time (varies by state, YMMV; some programs are as short as 4 mos.).
  • From there, you get into actual no-shit nursing with prehospital care specializations, respiratory therapist certs., etc. - Multiyear, Bachelors+ programs with field internships, etc. Sky's the limit, obviously.
Anyway, I don't know what most people calling themselves "street medics" have as training, but I'd certainly want to check the local Good Sam laws and see what you're allowed to do before opening yourself up to some potentially very negative legal exposure. In some places you are only protected when operating within your legal scope of practice, which might not be very much if you've just taken a training class but not the associated testing or certification. I am personally not ever going to walk away from someone I think I could help, regardless of the legal technicalities, but I wouldn't want to intentionally put myself into a situation or let others know that I'm available / offer to help if doing so was likely to boomerang on everyone after the fact.

Also, and while my answer concentrated on certifications and formal training, I think it's worth pointing out that at least in my experience, it's easy to oversell formal training and qualifications. They are largely a "license to learn", although they're not bad education in most cases or anything. But I'd take some grizzled seen-it-all with a EMR or EMT-B if I was busted up over a freshly-minted Paramedic, assuming I didn't need the very specific additional skills the Paramedic had. If you want to be useful, you need to find a way to get the experience, and not just the training.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:38 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I started to elaborate on my answer a bit, or add some additional thoughts, and then I realized that WidgetAlley hit on essentially what I was going for.

But I'll post what I wrote anyway.

People have suggested a lot of things - Red Cross Basic First Aid, EMT training, WFR training, etc. Those can all be pretty helpful skills. They also have pretty significant limitations.

"Street medic" work is unique, in that it takes place in progressive/radical communities, under the backdrop of police violence. That is a pretty specific context for care, and it's one that street medics have spent several decades understanding and evolving. A lot of street medics have found that when people with other medical skills hook up with street medic organizing, they still have a lot to learn - about being careful with consent and automony, about handling the trauma and stress of police violence, about handling acute crisis situations well, or about handling consensus-based decision making in what's traditionally a pretty hierarchical field.
posted by entropone at 11:57 AM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted. yarly, please cool it in here, and just assume that OP or anyone else will refer serious medical crises to professionals.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:37 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, a note from someone who is not a Street Medic, but has been to a lot of volatile protests, and knows Street Medics - make sure you are in a position to be able to handle chemical deterrents/agents, like pepper spray and tear gas. They are often used by police as crowd control, and you will be treating those who have been affected. For instance, I'm an asthmatic, so I would not be a good Street Medic.

Also, make sure you can handle protests in general. There's often noise and chaos, which can affect both you and other people in unexpected ways. Cops sometimes do this on purpose with the use of flash bang grenades. You're also not immune to arrest if you're a Street Medic; cops see you as just another protester. I have seen Street Medics get arrested.

So. Make sure you can breathe, make sure you can run, make sure you can stay calm. Also make sure you have a lawyer's number memorized/written on your forearm in Sharpie in case you do get arrested.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:42 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I googled "treat tear gas" and came up with interesting and useful results - sites that look like they would help you prepare. Thanks for standing up against Nazis and other evil.
posted by theora55 at 1:52 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thought - if you have resources, yet not time, to get some training in, it might be worth it to provide small 'care packs' of First Aid supplies. Like, tiny Ziploc bags of a couple bandages and a couple of unscented antiseptic wipes. Even perfectly healthy protesters in a 'safe' protest get small blisters, and this would free up Street Medics to treat more pressing issues.

I would steer clear of providing food, scented lotions/sun block, and/or medicine, even OTC meds, because some protesters will have allergies to these items.

It'll also allow you to distribute them before the protest actually starts, and then you can split before things have a chance to get hairy.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:17 PM on September 5, 2017

Former EMT here. I would steer away from the traditional First Responder and EMT certifications unless you get the wilderness version. The non-wilderness EMR and EMT curricula that I did are very focused on rapid transport to an advanced care facility, which if I understand correctly is not an appropriate assumption in "street medic" scenarios. Similarly, I would not expect paramedic to be good value for the time and effort, again because the paramedic is intended to operate within a larger healthcare system. E.g., you probably can't get half the equipment and any of the drugs that paramedics spend years learning to use.

I never did the wilderness stuff, so I can't actually recommend it. However, it relies less on rapid transport, so it's at least possible that you'll find it useful. I don't know.

When it comes to trauma, chemical deterrents, providing care during violent incidents, and PTSD, I suspect some of the best formal training available will be from the military. I understand that's probably not an option you'll consider.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:51 PM on September 5, 2017

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