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Sep 1, 2015 4:50 PM

NH1 News Investigates Tourniquet Troubles Part 1: Counterfeits posing threat to EMS workers


WOODSVILLE - Paramedics use tourniquets every day to save lives, but now emergency personnel have a new challenge - counterfeit tourniquets.

Although rare, counterfeit tourniquets have made their way to New Hampshire with the latest case in Woodsville.

Sean Buxton, the head medical instructor for the state’s tactical association showed us a re-enactment of how easily and quickly these counterfeits can break.

But for first responders in Woodsville, counterfeit tourniquets were the real problem when they had to use three tourniquets in all to help a motorcyclist that was bleeding out after.

The first two tourniquets were counterfeit and broke immediately after they secured them. Finally, the third tourniquet worked.

But how could this happen?

The plastic part, the windlass, the part that’s used to control pressure, split in half.

We asked Steven Robbins, the head of Emergency Medical Services in Woodsville, if that had ever happened before.

“Not to us. This is the first time it's happened here,” Robbins said.

When asked how it could happen, Robbins said, "I guess bad equipment, faulty equipment.”

Robbins agreed to a one-on-one exclusive interview so he could re-assure the public that no one in his department had any idea they had the counterfeits in their bags.

When asked what the source was of the tourniquets, Robbins said, “don't know exactly where we did bought them, where we did buy them.” He went on to say, “They did not come from Amazon that they did not come from Amazon or eBay or something like that. They came from a supplier, a reputable supplier, that must have got a bad shipment.” Lastly adding, “I'm not 100 percent sure where they did buy them at this point.”

But we wanted to know how the head of the department, who has worked in the small town for decades, no know.

“I don't know the supplier that we got those particular ones from,” Robbins said.

We asked Robbins if he would be able to find that.

His response? “If I put the time into researching that. I mean I think at this point it's moot.”

The point may be moot to Robbins but right after the incident, state officials sent out an alert to paramedics throughout New Hampshire warning them that knock-off tourniquets were out there.

We asked Nick Mercuri, who oversees the EMS system throughout the state, if he had ever heard of two tourniquets failing in a row.

“I have not,” Mercuri said.

“The concern with this particular piece of equipment is that it appears to be something it is not,” Mercuri added.

With serious threats of counterfeit tourniquets, emergency professionals have to learn how to tell the difference.

“Unfortunately, that is the difficult part is that a lot of the things that are counterfeit are manufactured extremely close to what the real item is,” Mercuri said. Adding, “The ones that are being manufactured that way are very, very close to the real thing.”

Online, false tourniquets not only look like the real deal but are cheap and easy to purchase on eBay or Amazon.

Despite public perception, Robbins said the Woodsville emergency services did not purchase tourniquets online.

“They did not come from Amazon or eBay or something like that,” Robbins says. “They came from a supplier, a reputable supplier, that must have gotten a bum shipment.”

The company that makes the legitimate tourniquets, North American Rescue, has sold 13 million of them to the military as well as first responders in the last decade. They confirm that the two tourniquets used by the Woodsville first responders did not come from them.

A company spokesperson sending us an email saying in part, “…Unfortunately all we can offer is confirmation that the devices in question were not purchased from us. We have been unable to acquire any additional information on the actual source….”

Mercuri says there are at least six tourniquets on the market right now that look like the real thing and there could be even more.
“We also need to make sure we have a plan B in our back pocket and I think these guys did,” Mercuri says.

Now that paramedics in Woodsville have gotten this wake-up call, Robbins says they are triple checking their tourniquets.

So every time paramedics get the call, they know they’re working with the real thing.

“We now know the difference between the counterfeit and the real product,” Robbins said. “If another counterfeit were to come through my door, I would know it immediately.”

On Thursday, we’ll have more of our exclusive interview with the head of EMS in Woodsville.

We will also talk with the head medical instructor for the state’s tactical operations who will show us the difference between real and counterfeit tourniquets.

An advisory has been sent from the state officials to paramedics throughout New Hampshire.


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