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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    State ER doctors go out with the SWAT team. Why they’re now official police force members.

    Emergency physicians Dr. Scott Whyte and Dr. Wes Kyle have been putting their lives on the line for years with regional SWAT teams, backing up the police in hostile situations and treating injuries, whether their patients are the police or the suspects.

    The two doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury recently were sworn in as official volunteer members of the Naugatuck Police Department.

    “It’s an honor for me just to be recognized as one among them officially, although I think they felt that way already,” said Whyte, a member of the Waterbury Regional Emergency Response Team, or SWAT, which serves Waterbury, Watertown, Wolcott, Naugatuck and Naugatuck Valley Community College and its environs.

    Being a member of the SWAT team, even unofficially, assures Whyte that when he’s “in potentially life threatening situations … that the person standing next to you will do whatever it takes to make sure we get out. It’s a bond that doesn’t come easily.”

    “It’s a very sincere gesture for them to say that they appreciate what we’re doing and are willing to give us this honor. It was quite moving to see how much the chief … was willing to do to make it happen,” Whyte said.

    Kyle recently joined Waterbury SWAT but also serves on the North Central Regional SWAT, which serves Bloomfield, Farmington, Avon, Kent, Simsbury, Windsor Locks and Windsor. He also is a member of the National Guard and served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

    Kyle said after 10 years his wife suggested he might want to stop.

    “And I distinctly remember one of the guys telling me that his wife told him that she felt more comfortable knowing that I was there to have her husband’s back, and relaying that to my wife made it make sense to her and why we continue to do it,” he said.

    ‘Five, 10 minutes really make a difference’

    Technically, becoming members of the Naugatuck police gives the doctors civil liability, in addition to their medical liability through Trinity Health of New England. They will wear special badges but do not carry weapons, similar to the department chaplains.

    The doctors said they serve a real need in the field, where “serving high-risk warrants” is the most common reason to call in the SWAT team. The second most common is a barricaded suspect, whether holding a hostage or not, Kyle said.

    “It became clear that care needed to be provided as close to the point of injury as possible,” Kyle said. “And traditionally, police operations, ambulances would be waiting outside in the cold zone, and any casualties had to be brought out to them. And it was critical. Five, 10 minutes really make a difference.”

    He said it’s helpful having a doctor who’s familiar with SWAT tactics, who’s in the rear of the group. “Then that way, if an officer does get hit or injured, we can be there very quickly to provide that care,” Kyle said. “And it’s mostly all just hemorrhage control by and large. And then work to extricate that officer out and then transport back to a hospital.”

    “We’re also there to aid any casualties, even if they are the suspect of the operation, once they’ve been rendered safe,” Whyte added.

    Whyte said he became involved with the police when he was asked to give “bleed control, instruction with tourniquets, packing, etc., as well as advanced field care medicine to the SWAT team. And so it evolved from there that I started to go to trainings, and then they asked if I wanted to join in with the team and that’s how I became involved.”

    Kyle, who was serving with the 2nd Infantry Regiment of Connecticut’s National Guard as battalion surgeon, connected with North Central Regional SWAT through his sergeant major, who was a Bloomfield police officer.

    While a bill giving immunity to doctors who accompany SWAT teams has been proposed in the General Assembly, it has not made it to a vote, Whyte said. So becoming sworn members of Naugatuck’s police force was the alternative.

    “I’ve been invited to receive a plaque and some of these other honors, but not sworn to the point where we have the civil liability protection, which by and far has been kind of an issue,” Whyte said.

    “Because we weren’t sworn officers of the team, there wasn’t coverage afforded to us,” he said. “So each time we’d go out, we’d basically be kind of hanging it out that if someone wanted to come after us civilly that nothing could say that they couldn’t do that. And then it would be up to us to represent ourselves.”

    He said he hopes other police departments will follow Naugatuck’s lead.

    “It’s more than just about Wes and I at this point,” Whyte said. “This kind of opens the door for other municipalities, particularly police chiefs to say, well, if Naugatuck did this, I guess we could do this with our team, which will in effect allow other physicians to feel comfortable to say, well, if I can be protected legally, then I would like to volunteer as well.”

    Kyle said the system is common elsewhere in the country. “I have ER doc friends in other states and police departments just deputize them,” he said. “They essentially become a sworn officer. And then they have all the coverage they need. And it’s a much more formalized position. We’ve always been kind of lagging behind and it’s always been a gray zone for us.”

    Naugatuck Police Chief Colin McAllister agreed.

    “Unfortunately there’s only a small number of physicians that choose to do this in Connecticut, but this is a very common practice across the rest of the country,” he said.

    “I’m just not sure why we don’t see it here in Connecticut, but most major agencies all across the country have a physician who will show up with these teams at high-risk situations,” he said.

    McAllister said the doctors’ willingness to serve with the police is commendable, given their stress of the Emergency Department.

    “I really think that speaks to their character of who they are,” he said of their willingness to go out with the SWAT team.

    “They go through a tremendous amount of training to be a doctor. And then they work in an emergency room setting during their day job, and then they still choose to go out and give back to the communities that they’re already working in after hours as volunteers. I think that speaks a lot about who they are,” he said.

    Kim Kalajainen, president of St. Mary’s Hospital, said in a statement:

    “The Saint Mary’s Hospital family is incredibly proud of Drs. Kyle and Whyte for their willingness to volunteer their time in support of our SWAT teams across the greater Waterbury area. Their extraordinary medical knowledge, experience and passion for emergency medicine supports the important work of the SWAT teams. Saint Mary’

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