Winters in New England

When I was in California, I had three similar conversations with three different crews. It went something like this:

Paramedic/EMT — “So, you said you’re from Massachusetts, right?”
Me — “Yes I am!”
Paramedic/EMT — “How the heck do you work in the snow? What do you do?”

My response at first was “What do you mean?” But I realized very quickly that in the Bay Area, dealing with a significant snow fall usually isn’t a logistical issue. I’m sitting in my truck right now writing this as I stare at a five and a half foot high snow bank, which is bound to get higher as in the next 48-72 hours, we might see as much as an additional twenty inches of snow fall dumped on us by Mother Nature. I’ve been in Massachusetts for almost fourteen years, and I can honestly say, I don’t remember a winter being that bad. Keep in mind though, that I don’t completely remember some parts of my college years!

For those of you who live in warmer climates, I guess I should give you the rundown of what we do, and what we deal with when things get like this. . . right after I share an inappropriate hand gesture with you, and your “Its warm enough in January to wear short sleeves” weather.

1. Plowing, or lack there of. Over the last couple of years, my service has completely transitioned out of Box Ambulances. Our entire fleet of 35 trucks is now made up of vans, and let me tell you, I’m not that heart broken about that, especially at this time of year. Many side streets in our service area end up being very poorly plowed, and with cars parked on the streets, its very difficult to get a Box Truck down the streets. Even a not-so-experienced driver can park a Type II ambulance just about anywhere.

2. Hypothermia. The heat almost always stays on the back, so that all it takes is a flip of the “Master” switch to get that truck nice and toasty. Crews always make sure their IV warmer is stocked, and sometimes will even add a 1000 cc bag to the dashboard to keep an extra one warm. You can never have enough blankets and towels. Keeping the sick and injured covered and warm is an extremely high priority, especially when dealing with something like an Auto Extrication.

3. Different Call Types. As expected, we see an increase in the “slip and falls” with the extra ice. Lately though, we’ve seen falls off of ladders from people trying to clean the ice off their roofs. We see some exertional chest pain calls as well from all the shoveling that goes on. Also, when temperatures dip this low, the Homeless become a priority. They’re more exposed to the cold, and their awareness of how cold they are can often be masked by alcohol or drugs.

4. Half Speed. It’s a given that during a snow emergency, at least in the early stages, everything will work a little bit slower. Roads are unplowed. Walks aren’t shoveled. Steps are icy. Transports take longer, and as a result of all of this, ERs end up more backed up than usual. From an Operational stand point, it can be a logistical nightmare to keep everything moving, but we push through and get it done.

5. Fire Standbys. These calls have their own special considerations that I could write a whole other post about, but I’ll try to summarize it here. You’ve got freezing water. You’ve got displaced residents who might not have had a chance to grab a jacket before they headed out the door. Firefighters are at a great risk for hypothermia and are commonly carrying around a lot of extra weight with all of the water frozen to their turnout jackets. Just last week, we had one of our city’s Bravest sustain a minor injury at a fire. Before we left, we took his turnout jacket off. It was so frozen that I was able to stand it up on its own in the street.

To those of you who don’t have to deal with the snow that we see in New England, I hope I’ve given you a little glimpse into the special challenges it can pose for us. For those of you out there who do deal with the snow, what did I miss?