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Roadway and Traffic Debacles: EMS Is Vulnerable!

As we settle into the holiday season, many regions of the country are in the grips of a polar vortex. The artic wind chill is dangerous and the road conditions for many have changed in an instant as a result of this “flash freeze”. This gives me a great opportunity to talk about EMS related crashes. As prehospital professionals, we have many duties and responsibilities that come with putting on the uniform. Driving cautiously and with due regard is one of those duties that arguably doesn’t get enough “air-time” or attention. I get it… the topic isn’t glamorous or flashy, but nonetheless, the crash statistics speak for themselves, and as an industry we must do our part to drive in a safe manner and control the controllables – where we can, ALL YEAR LONG. On a related topic, recent data tells a pretty compelling story, that the use of lights and sirens doesn’t always equal time saved! In most communities, scene response and transport time savings will be less than 3-5 minutes on average.

Source: MedTrust

Separately, I realize that we don’t have control over all things on the roadways and lots of contributing factors are out of our hands all together. Distracted driving is at an all-time high, and we can’t assume that we are seen and heard by everyone. With that being said, emergency vehicle response is the basis for the success or failure of all other emergency functions. The vehicles we drive are expensive and they carry some precious cargo (equipment, patients, personnel). Without the safe conveyance of these vehicles to the emergency scene OR to the hospital, the Fire/EMS service can’t fulfill its overarching mission to save lives and protect property.

Keep your head on a swivel and recognize that one single ambulance crash can be quite devastating on an agency. A simple crash will have to involve at least (3) ambulances as the scene unfolds. The original unit (#1) is out of service, a backup unit (#2) has to be sent to the call to transport the original patient, and another EMS unit (#3) will likely be necessary if just one other person (EMS/civilian) is injured.

PEARLS for MVC Risk Reduction

· Red Lights & Sirens Aren’t Always Effective (may increase collision risk) – it also physiologically affects the driver and the patient in the back (think vitals BP, HR, R)

· Treat Lights & Siren (L&S) like any other EMS related intervention (risk/benefit profile)

· Check out the L&S white paper authored by Dr. Kupas

· Buckle Up! Most injured EMS providers are unrestrained

· Minimize projectiles in the patient compartment areas

· Guard the brakes and anticipate erratic behavior from other drivers on the road

· Due diligence and situational awareness must remain high, even after crashes involving YOU

· Be thorough in your daily vehicle checks

· Keep the cab sterile (the FAA implemented this in the early 80’s) – minimize disruptions

· Mange risks by considering driver monitoring systems (to improve safety)

December 26, 2022

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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