When I was fifteen years old, the first ambulance that I set foot on was a 1984 slant sided Braun. That truck, 219, was a beast. Gas powered with two tanks that it would guzzle on a Summer day, and to better make sure it was plugged in when you left the station because if you didn’t, it would be dead as a doornail for the next call and you’d be forced to take the van one bay over. Nobody wanted to take the van.
The back of the truck was typical for your smaller box truck. The s
tretcher was side mounted to the left hand wall with a bench seat running down the side and the airway seat where you would expect it to be. There was really nothing unusual or breathtaking about the back of the truck. About a year into my time, the dreaded van was replaced with a 1994 Horton ambulance with a center mounted stretcher, but otherwise nothing remarkable to it. 219 was remounted sometime after the turn of the century, and that 1994 Horton, 218, was replaced in 2007 with a brand new Horton ambulance, ready to keep the populace of Island Heights safe.
Now, in 2011, 218 and 219 still sit in their respective bays. 219 is still that remounted 1984 box on a new chassis, and 218 is that pristine 2007 Horton, 23 years younger than its big brother just a few feet away. Here is the problem: if you open up the back doors of each of the trucks, you will find that they are alarmingly similar. That’s right: 23 years of history, zero progress. 218 still has that same center mounted stretcher, much like its 1994 predecessor did. The bench seat is still running down the right side, airway seat still in the same spot that it was not only in the old truck, but also in 219. No bucket seats. No advanced restraint systems. No harnesses. No steps taken to make the providers safer in the back of the ambulance. Just the same old lap belts.
Now, compare it to the back of an ambulance from “across the pond.” you’ll find swiveling bucket seats, and a layout that keeps a provider safe even when they are caring for a patient. Why are we so far behind Europe in the designs of our ambulances and why do we refuse to explore the safety features that might help save lives should a crash occur? How long will we have to watch article after article blasted out by EMS World and EMS1 about another line of duty death or serious injury in an accident involving an ambulance? I’m fed up and you should be too.
It is not just the ambulance manufacturers and those who spec out the ambulances who are failing us either. It goes far beyond that. Heaven forbid someone forgets to put the shoulder straps on their patient; a hefty fine could be coming from the state. Little is done to raise safety standards and demand more for “me.”
The unfortunate thing is we seem to be spending more time worrying about the outside of our ambulances than we are about the inside. People seem to forget though that all of the LED’s and chevrons in the world aren’t going to make a lick of a difference the first time your ambulance gets stuck. Don’t get me wrong I am a fan of all of the pretty new ambulances that are out there, and I always ask for the “tour” the first time I see them but I have yet to see anything ground breaking or different once I climb into the back. Every innovation and difference that I find is geared towards patient care. None of it has anything to do with keeping Joe EMT safe.
I have encountered one ambulance that is “up to standards” for what you should expect for a safe vehicle and that is Western Eagle County’s new Sprinter ambulance that was on display in Las Vegas at EMS Expo. Interestingly enough though, they had to have the truck manufactured in Canada because they could not find anyone in the United States who could build one up to their specifications.
How many injuries and close calls do we need to endure before we start following the lead set forth for us by our European colleagues? Take a second look at the back of 219. Is a 27 year old layout acceptable to you? It’s time to make our work environment safer not only for our patients but for ourselves.