Author: Ron LaPedis
Born at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California, Joseph Gomez knew from an early age that he wanted to help people. Following in his family’s military and law enforcement footsteps, Joey joined the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Explorer program Post 810 in 2007 and was planning to follow his cousin into the Marines when he turned 18.
But that didn’t happen, and 11 years later one very lucky YouTube employee had reason for extra thanks this year because Joe’s plans fell through. You may have heard of the butterfly effect whereby a small change early on can make a large change later. In Joe’s case, not going into the Marines put him at YouTube’s offices on April 3, 2018, where he saved an employee’s life.
As you may recall, April 3 was the day a disgruntled YouTube content creator showed up at the company’s San Bruno HQ and started shooting. You can read more about that here. In what could only be described as an unbelievable movie plot, the wound treatment videos Joe Gomez watched on YouTube led to him saving a YouTube employee’s life.
The right place, the right time, the right training and the right gear
The borders of Pacifica, San Bruno and South San Francisco are intertwined like fingers, so it is common to see cars from all three agencies plus the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office on the road. For interoperability, each agency’s radios have access to the others’ channels – which are often monitored by beat cops.
On April 3, Officer Gomez pulled an overtime shift for cellphone traffic enforcement. He was driving along Skyline Boulevard when he heard a South San Francisco cop ask why San Bruno cars were going Code 3 through their town. A few minutes later he took the call for an active shooter call after hearing it on Pacifica dispatch.
While most of the San Bruno cars were headed north on Cherry, he was heading south since he was coming from his own beat. Gomez stopped in front of the YouTube building, grabbed his patrol rifle from the front of his car and his hard armor carrier from the back, and ran up the front stairs.
At the top, he encountered a San Bruno officer standing over a YouTube employee who was shot and unresponsive. Joe reached into the medical kit he always carries on his hard armor to don his gloves and grab his trauma shears. He cut open the victim’s shirt and saw a bullet wound. Reaching back into his kit, he took out a chest seal and placed it over the gunshot wound.
While there was no blood running down the victim’s shirt, there was a lot of blood on the ground. Reaching around the victim, Joe could feel blood and another bullet hole – the exit wound. He cut away the employee’s shirt in back and placed another chest seal over the exit wound.
At that point, the local ambulance company was coming up the stairs, so he turned the victim over to them and went to be assigned by the incident commander.
“We were told by medics that had Gomez not stopped the sucking chest wound and placed the dressings the way he did the victim definitely would have died,” said Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle. “We’re very proud of him.”
Why Joe was at YouTube in the first place is a story in itself.
What about that butterfly?
When he hit 18, Joe was ready to sign up for the Marines, but his family and friends counseled him to finish his education as Plan B, so he enrolled in business classes at a local community college. After deciding business wasn’t for him, he graduated with a justice administration degree.
Joe wanted the tight camaraderie he knew he would find in the military, which rarely is found in private industry. His cousin, who was deployed in the Middle East, agreed that while there was camaraderie in the military, it could also be found in law enforcement.
Jim Gilletti, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Explorer Post 810 lead advisor, said that Joe was enthusiastic, energetic, outgoing and with a great sense of humor – important when you sometimes see the darkest side of society. After earning the respect of his peers and advisors, he was promoted to sergeant. Further family conversations convinced Joe that the best place for him was in law enforcement – and he already had a good idea of what policing was like.
He entered the police academy and applied to Belmont and Pacifica police departments in November 2012. He aced both interviews, but after digging deeper, decided he would rather serve in the sleepy coastal town of Pacifica, home to the annual Fog Fest. He was hired after graduating in April 2013. Coincidentally, both of his Explorer advisors either live or work on the coast.
Train like your life depends on it
How did YouTube videos help save a YouTube employee’s life? A couple years back, Joe started looking at wound treatment videos on YouTube and became interested in the topic. He started talking to his local firefighters about what supplies to buy, and began building a kit, taking personal time to attend a 4-hour lecture put on by the local Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) team.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did if I hadn’t purchased that kit and taken extra medical courses,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have known what to do.” In the future, Joe plans to take an extended hands-on course.
Pacifica PD already has rifle-rated armor with two detachable bleed kits and helmets in their cars. Why does Joe carry his own? “It’s personal preference,” he said. “I know what’s in my kit and where it is. And if I am going to sweat all over my carrier or helmet, I don’t have to think about someone else having to wear it later on.”
While they didn’t have city-issued gunshot wound kits in the past, San Bruno police Chief Ed Barberini now has equipped his officers with those kits and the training that goes with them. Like San Bruno, Pacifica PD trains annually for active shooter response and often includes other departments in their training. Both have had response plans for local schools for a number of years.
Officer Gomez certainly found the camaraderie he was seeking – not only among his brothers and sisters in blue – but in Hacker, his partner – a black German shepherd who is not only a police K9, but also a comfort dog.
Pacifica PD has a “sociable dog” policy and in addition to standard K9 work, Hacker comes along to 5150 and domestic violence calls. In the first instance, Hacker can be used to help deescalate a situation and in the second, he can help with the trauma of seeing one or both parents taken away by police.
As Joe says, “People call when they’re having a bad day and Hacker and I can show that we’re just like anyone else and we want to help others. I really don’t enjoy taking people to jail but it is part of the job.”
Joe continues, “While Hacker was trained in Czech, I already had a Belgian Malinois at home, who was trained in German. Without any help from me, Hacker picked up on Duke’s commands and is now bilingual.”
Distinguished service awards
At a Pacifica City Council meeting on May 15, Joseph Gomez was presented with the Departmental Life Saving Medal for his actions during the April 3 attack.
Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle said, “Officer Gomez’s actions, along with the actions of all law enforcement officers that responded to the YouTube shooting, exemplify the heroism displayed every day by our profession as we protect our communities. Officer Gomez’s preparation and quick thinking saved this man’s life.”
On June 12, San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini presented his department’s Distinguished Service Medal to Officer Joe Gomez, San Bruno Police Sergeants Kevin McMullan and Mike Blundell, Cpl. Joe Valiente and Officers Manuel Agredano, Oliver Reich, Scott Smithmatungol, Misael Covarrubias and Andrew Harper.
San Bruno police dispatcher Erin Beckett, records/communications supervisor Shannon Rohatch and Burlingame dispatchers Melissa Hunkin, Tara Filiere and Christine Granucci also were awarded the medal.
There is nothing more painful than watching someone bleed out because you either don’t know what to do or you don’t have the right equipment. Just like you should be able to draw and get on target without thinking, you also should be able to reach for your appropriately equipped bleed kit and use it – just like Joe.
Dozens of pre-made kits are available from reputable dealers or you can build your own. Some kits are vacuum shrink-wrapped to make them smaller and easier to carry. Be wary of buying medical gear on Amazon and eBay as manufacturers have found counterfeit gear that will let you down.
At a minimum, your kit should have these items:
Gloves – carry at least 2-3 pairs. Muscle memory should have you putting these on before you do anything else. Tourniquet – carry at least one and perhaps two. EMT scissors/trauma shears. Bleeding control patch with a hemostatic agent – there are a handful of different brands, such as Celox?A, ChitoFlex and QuikClot. Emergency trauma dressing. Gauze roll. Vented chest seal: Joe used two of them to cover the employee’s entry and exit wounds.