The Direct Action Response Kit (D.A.R.K.) from Dark Angel Medical was designed by Air Force medic, Kerry “Pocket Doc” Davis. Davis spent 10 years on active duty and five years in the USAF reserves as a Combat Medic/Flight Medic-Airborne/Instructor and was deployed to several locations in the Middle East as well as numerous other locations worldwide with both US and foreign military organizations. Upon separation from the military, he worked as a civilian paramedic while obtaining his license as a registered nurse. Since leaving the military in 2007, he has focused his career on critical care and emergency medicine. Davis called upon his varied experience dealing with trauma cases in the field when he created his D.A.R.K. . . .
On first glance, the relatively few contents of the kit may seem too limited for it to be of much good, but once you understand the thought process behind the component selection, you realize how powerful the kit really is. The first thing you need to know is this is a serious trauma kit, not a “boo-boo kit” as Davis refers to most basic first aid kits. The majority of kits are sorely lacking in the kinds of materials needed for dealing with life-threatening trauma. Don’t get me wrong, a full medical kit will have both the boo boo healing contents as well as trauma components, but it’s important to understand what a kit comes with and what types of injuries it’s designed to handle.
When a first responder rolls up onto an injury scene, there’s a specific order of evaluation and treatment that must be followed when assessing a patient. This is based on the how quickly an injury will kill you. Here’s the list (in descending order of criticality):
- Hemorrhage (accounts for 80% of combat deaths)
- Breathing (accounts for 10% of combat deaths)
Now, before anyone starts yelling about me putting the brain at the bottom, remember that this list is based on how quickly something will kill you. Depending on the severity, a brain injury isn’t likely to lead to death within minutes. A major arterial bleed on the other hand can and will. For example, if you come upon a person who is both bleeding heavily and not breathing, the blood loss needs to be addressed first. After blood loss, the airway is next on the list because a patient needs an airway to breathe. Clear an airway and then move onto the next step, etc.
As you can see, the first and third elements in the list above are responsible for 90% of all deaths in combat and almost certainly represent the bulk of the deaths in non-combat injuries. Assuming the remaining 10% of deaths are spread between the other three areas, it’s fair to say that more than 90% of deaths are attributable to hemorrhage, airway, or breathing and the D.A.R.K. is set up to directly address these three areas. It contains the following components:
The Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT) – This is one of the most widely fielded tourniquets in combat theaters today. It can be effectively applied with one hand, which enables a person to apply a tourniquet to their own limbs. With practice, the tourniquet can be applied in 5 to 10 seconds assuming it is properly staged. Kerry did a video for the Sig Sauer Academy on the proper way to stage a tourniquet.
Israeli Bandage – The Israeli Bandage was developed by a four-person Israeli startup to address the fact that bandaging technology had not really changed in nearly six decades. It incorporates features from several first aid elements such as a thick, sterile non-adhesive wound pad that could absorb a lot of blood, a compression bandage that could be wound to create pressure, and a pressure bar built into the back of the wound pad that would allow a lot of direct pressure to be placed on the injury in hopes of stemming the bleed.
Quik Clot Combat Gauze – This is the third generation of the hemostatic agent that can be used to stem blood flow. This version is impregnated into 12 feet of z-folded gauze that can be stuffed into a wound. Unlike older versions of the clotting agent, this one has no unpleasant heating effect (earlier versions could almost boil water).
Nasal Airway – This is a soft tube designed to be inserted into the nasal passage or down the throat to open an airway should the patient be unconscious and have an obstructed airway.
HALO Seals – A pair of occlusive seals that can be used to slow down the negative effects of air leaking into the thorax, commonly known as a sucking chest wound. The adhesive used on them enables the HALO seals to be removed and relocated without losing adhesion. They are provided as a pair to deal with situations where there may be more than one incursion into the thorax such as a gunshot that passes through the body.
Compressed Gauze – 12 feet of gauze that can be used in addition to the Quickclot, or for other things such as field expedient slings, or binding splints to broken limbs.
Pair of Nitrile Gloves – A critical piece of personal protective equipment for tending to the medical needs of others.
Trauma Shears – A pair of specialized scissors for quickly clearing clothing or other material away from an area requiring treatment.
The whole kit is packed into a case about the size of two AR-15 magazines and can be mounted to any belt, backpack, or stored in your car’s glove compartment. There are two versions of the D.A.R.K. – one for Civilian/LE and the second for Military and Federal Government. The only difference has to do with the package of Quik Clot. The Military version includes a strip of X-Ray sensitive material on the gauze. This would show up in an X-Ray, alerting medical staff as to the presence of the Quik Clot bandage. The Civilian/LE version does not have the X-Ray strip.
The rationale for the X-Ray strip in the military version is that on a battlefield, a soldier would receive triage care and then get moved back for later evac. It is highly likely that the field medic who initially treated the soldier will not be there where the soldier gets wheeled into the operating room back in the hospital. The X-ray strip increases the chances that medical staff will realize that there is Quik Clot gauze in the soldier and take appropriate steps to remove it and treat the wound. For civilians/LE, the chain of care is usually much shorter and information as to medical interventions performed by first responders will likely be given directly to medical staff.
Dark Angel Medical is limited by its contract to only sell the military version of the Quik Clot to documented members of the military or federal government. Plus, the X-ray strip adds about $5 to the cost of the Quik Clot, which makes the military kit more expensive than the Civilian/LE version.
This kit is not cheap. At first glance, it may be tough to swallow a price of $160 compared to the $25 – $50 most boo boo kits sell for on Amazon. But good components cost money and once you consider everything, the D.A.R.K. is reasonably priced for what you get. To prove this statement, let’s walk through a deconstruction exercise similar to what we did a few weeks ago on the Echo Sigma Get Home Bag.
The tourniquet retails for about $26-$30 depending on where you look. It does pay to make sure you are buying one of the newer ones. The newer models include a thicker windlass and a white tape strip for noting the time the tourniquet was applied. If you find someone selling it cheaper, it might be one of the older models. Quik Clot in the z-fold gauze version will run you about $35- $40. A 4” Israeli bandage is about $8 to $10. A nasal airway costs $8, the HALO seal is $20, a good set of shears is $10, the compressed gauze and the gloves are probably another $5. Dark Angel Medical sells the pouches they used for their D.A.R.K. kits for $35. You could certainly use your own pouch, but the ones Dark Angel sells are pretty well set up for this sort of thing and include a tab in the main pocket that will let you eject all of the contents easily without having to fumble with it.
Add everything up and the price comes to between $147 and $158. If you consider the fact that you likely would have to shop at several different stores and pay multiple shipping charges, any savings you get by assembling the kit yourself pretty much goes out the window. One nice thing about the D.A.R.K. is that everything but the CAT and the shears are packaged in a vacuum sealed bag which reduces the size and makes it easy to remove from the pack.
Initially, since I already had most of the components of the D.A.R.K. lying around, I just bought a pouch from Dark Angel Medical and tried stuffing what I had into it. Let me tell you, without the vacuum seal, it’s a very tight squeeze and if my life depended on getting to things quickly, I’m not comfortable with it (which is why I recently ordered a proper kit from Dark Angel).
Two warnings of note – the Quik Clot gauze has an expiration date. You can find cheaper prices for it on the Internet, but beware – you might be purchasing a product with a significantly shorter shelf life. These are, after all, medical supplies you are buying. Better to pay another $10 to $20 to get something you know will work rather than saving a few dollars and getting something that doesn’t. Also, the popularity of the CAT Tourniquet has led to some serious counterfeiting. If you choose to purchase one, make sure you are buying from a reputable dealer.
Could you assemble the components – sans case for less? Sure, but a large benefit of this kit is its compact size. It is small enough to stow inside your car – I keep on in my center console so that in the event of a really serious SHTF situation, I can reach it without having to get to the trunk where I keep the main first aid kit. I keep extra CATs, Israeli bandages, and Quik Clot packages in my big first aid kit should the unthinkable happen and I roll up onto the scene of a multi-vehicle accident or mass casualty event before the dedicated first responders can arrive.
I also have a D.A.R.K. clipped to my belt whenever I go to the range. While I certainly never expect to end up like Tex Grebner, the fact is that Tex probably didn’t plan to end up this way either. Accidents happen and they tend happen at the most inopportune times. If your first aid kit is in the car 50-100 yards away while you are doing a serious bleed out, you might not make it. A compact trauma kit right on your belt could quite literally be the difference between life and death.
Overall, this kit lives up to its billing – Everything you need and nothing you don’t to address a life threatening trauma. I keep one close at hand whenever I’m out and about. Does that sound paranoid? It might, but then again, no more so than someone who carries a concealed weapon all the time. In both cases, the object is to be prepared for the unexpected and statistically speaking, I am more likely to need my D.A.R.K. than I am my CCW.
One final note on the kit – many of the contents are not something that an untrained person should just pull out and try to use. It helps to get some training on it. Kerry Davis spends a fair amount of time on the road teaching a two day class that focuses on trauma injuries and shows how the contents of the D.A.R.K. can be used to treat them. The class cost $450 but includes a D.A.R.K. in the price, so you actually pay $295 for the two day course. The first day and a half is classroom instruction followed by half a day working with the components of the kit so you get some hands on experience putting them to use. I strongly recommend that before you attempt to deploy this kit that you get some training, either from Dark Angel Medical or from some place else. Remember that Good Samaritan laws generally cover you as long as you are working withing the scope of your training, More information on the course schedule can be found here.
BONUS: Dark Angel Medical has made a 10% coupon code available to the TTAG readership. Simply enter TAG10 into the coupon code field. This code is good from August 30 to September 30, 2013 and will get you 10% off any product ordered on the website. Special Thanks to Kerry Davis for offering our readership this deal.
Price: $159.95 – $164.94 (depending on whether you order the Civilian/LE or Military versions)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Design/Ease of Use: * * * * *
This is not your daddy’s first aid kit. It is a serious piece of kit that is designed for a very specific purpose – to deal with traumatic injury. It rides alongside but does not replace the standard first aid kit you should always have at hand.
Construction: * * * * *
There is nothing to indicate anything about this kit is less than top quality.
Value: * * * * *
Whether you buy this as a complete kit or you assemble the pieces yourself, you are going to pay about the same amount of money. Dark Angel Medical has designed this kit based upon real world experience and the components are top notch.
Overall: * * * * *
You need this kit or something with similar components. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get your hands on one. You (or someone else) may someday be very glad you did.