Shark Attacks Prompt New Kind of First Aid Training for Beachgoers

May 24, 2019


Fake limbs and rolls of gauze sat on tables in the community room at the Orleans Police Department, as a recent Stop the Bleed training got under way. The trainings are a modern-day equivalent to CPR classes, says Orleans Fire Chief Anthony Pike. Stop the Bleed teaches response to major wounds, like shark bites, and the program has been popular.

“I think a lot of our residents are realizing that we’re going to have to coexist with great white sharks, which make our beach potentially very dangerous,” Chief Pike said.

62-year old William Lytton survived a shark attack in Truro last summer, Pike said, in large part because people on the beach knew how to treat his wounds.

“Beach goers got involved in the care of that individual. And it illustrated that the public can make a difference with severe bleeding injuries,” he said.

It only takes three minutes for someone to bleed out from a major injury. The two dozen people at this training gathered around a table watching EMT Melissa Clayton pack gauze into a gash on a fake leg.

“You use two fingers and then two to feed it. Never take the pressure off,” she said as she leaned on the prop leg. “Just keep feeding into the wound.”

After she filled the hole, Clayton put gauze and other absorbent materials over the wound. She said, if you don't have gauze, you could use cotton beach towels. Clayton then taught the class how to use a tourniquet to stop bleeding, if the wound is too deep to pack.

Rob Moodie, of Orleans, said he’s here because he wants to be prepared.

“I’m one of those that’s kind of notorious for not being real fond of blood, so it’s good to practice. And, hopefully, I never have to use it, but would feel more comfortable if I ever did,” he said.

With the uptick in white sharks, Moodie has changed how he uses outer Cape beaches. “I used to paddle board out on Nauset Beach. And I’m not sure I would do that today.”

Other people here at the training said they’ve also become more cautious in recent years. Fire Chief Anthony Pike surveyed the room. Nearly everyone there said they use the outer beach.

It’s hard for emergency responders to get to those remote beaches in the few minutes it takes for someone to bleed out. That’s why most people came to this training. Mackenzie Sisson grew up here and teaches surfing in Wellfleet.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility to be educated in this and have some background for... god forbid,” she said. “I don’t think we’re scared. Just, it’s a change. So we have to be a little more aware.”

At the front of the room there’s a bright orange first aid kit on a wooden platform. There will be half a dozen of these major bleeding boxes along Nauset beach in Orleans this summer, filled with materials like gauze and tourniquets. The boxes are part of a shift on Cape Cod, according to Chief Pike.

“We have to change our culture and how we protect ourselves on our beaches. And this is just starting,” he said.

The severe bleeding first aid kits will be on Nauset beach by this Memorial Day Weekend. Even if people haven’t learned how to use a tourniquet or pack a wound, Chief Pike said, just having those kits there will remind people to be more aware of their surroundings.

The Orleans Citizen Forum has information on upcoming trainings.

Here is a list of recommended items to add to your first aid kits:

  • Tourniquet

  • Hemostatic dressing

  • Gauze

  • Cotton towels

  • Trauma shears

  • Gloves and safety glasses