Driving an Ambulance as a paramedic is very different than driving your everyday car home from work or going for a Sunday drive in the country. The days of putting a patient in the back of the “Meat Truck” and racing them to hospital are over.
Don’t get me wrong… at times we like to scoop and run with the trauma patient, but ultimately, you have the patient and you’re partner in the back of the Ambulance and you’re not going to do them any benefits if you end up involved in a motor vehicle accident yourself.
Driving an Emergency Vehicle
These are the things that I think about when I drive to a patient (under lights and sirens in an emergency situation):
1. First and foremost, at the end of this shift, I want for my work partner and I to come back home alive, well, and uninjured.
2. I determine why this job has been designated as an “emergency” that requires lights and sirens. I’m not going to start driving lights and sirens through the busiest parts of town if the patient has had a “stubbed toe for 3 days.” It just doesn’t make sense.
3. I then work out the fastest route to the patient (this not necessarily the shortest distance – think about highways and the streets that you know will have a lot of traffic at this time of the day, which you want to avoid. I don’t leave the station until I have worked out the fastest route to the patient. Often, if a paramedic tries to rush and looks up the address on the way, it takes longer than if they had spent the time required in the first place to work it out at station.
4. At all times, I consider this: “Do I feel safe right now?” If the answer is no, or I find myself getting nervous, then I know that I’m going too fast, and taking too much of risk, irrespective of what the “emergency” is that I’m going to. Does my partner look comfortable? If he or she appears to be hanging onto their seatbelt around corners or trying to brake on an imaginary break – then you are probably going too fast.
5. While driving, if the road is not separated by a medium strip, I will position the Ambulance slightly to the wrong side of the road. This allows two things to occur. First, it forces people on the other side of the road to pull over, which often causes the cars in front of you to wonder what’s going on, hopefully look in their rear-view mirrors and notice you. And secondly, it gives you a little bit of extra room to manoeuvre, if the person in front of you all of a sudden jams on their brakes.
6. I never get too close to the cars and trucks in front of me, they are likely to do the most erratic and strange things in response to the lights ands sirens. Also, the closer I get to the truck in front of me the less I can see ahead and the less the oncoming cars can see me.
7. I never forget that vehicles are driven by people, and people never react well to things out of the ordinary (such as Ambulances driving under lights and sirens).
8. When I approach an intersection, I slow right down (almost to a stop), change the sound of my siren to project sideways instead of forwards so that the cars coming through the intersection have a greater chance of hearing them (if your Ambulance has this feature). Because I’m in Australia, and we drive on the left side of the road, my partner will look at the left window and either state “Clear” or “Stop,” depending on traffic. It is important that they do not say anything other than “Clear” or “Stop,” because this can easily confuse the issue. I look out the right side. And we slowly progress through the intersection. Once on the straight road again, I will change my siren to project forward.
When I arrive where the patient is, I park so that the Ambulance is facing in such a direction that, if required, I can immediately drive off again. This is a safety issue. I don’t want to be trying to do a three-point turn to get out when someone is attacking me.
These are the things that I think about when I drive a patient to hospital:
First and foremost, at the end of this shift, I want for my work partner and I to come back home alive, well, and uninjured. This is especially important when my partner may not be restrained in the back of the Ambulance.
Anyone in the back of the Ambulance should be restrained. In the case of the patient, the patient is always restrained with seatbelts. There’s no point taking someone with a broken arm to hospital and endangering their lives by not applying seatbelts. The Paramedic or Paramedics in the back of the Ambulance should primarily wear a seatbelt throughout the whole transport to the hospital. However, there are times where this is not possible, such as changing oxygen tubing, suctioning, getting more equipment or drugs which are stored at the front of the Ambulance, or while doing CPR. At these times, the drive must be especially mindful of their safety.
Unlike driving to the hospital in which both Paramedics are sitting in comfortable seats and get see out the front windscreen, on the way to hospital, you have a patient, who is most likely travelling backwards and a Paramedic who, at times may be standing up. Therefore, the goal is not necessarily to travel the fastest, but to travel with a stable platform. This means not accelerating suddenly, or breaking suddenly. Leaving a much greater “safety margin” between you and other vehicles on the road. Reacting to street lights and braking cars much earlier, by taking your foot of the accelerator much earlier, instead of braking at the end.