Members of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Ambulance Standards Committee came out of their latest meeting in Tulsa, Okla., last month with a renewed focus on the task ahead.
Committee Chairman Dave Fischler, a retired Suffolk County, N.Y., fire commissioner, said the committee split into five work groups, each focusing on a different aspect of ambulance safety.
"We had two work groups initially," Fischler said. "They laid the foundation for what we discussed [in this latest meeting]. The five new groups cover chassis, body and compartments, electrical, administration and patient care environment."
Guests And The Public
The new work groups met on Dec. 9 and 10 to begin going over their assigned sections and chapters of the proposed ambulance standard. But Fischler said the work didn't end when the meeting did.
"Now they'll do conference calls and schedule their own meetings," Fischler said. "With [the online meeting programs] Webinar and WebEx, it's a lot different than the old days of having to figure out how to meet in person."
The committee members also visited a nearby Navistar ambulance plant to see what safety measures manufacturers use when making an ambulance.
An important aspect of the NFPA standards process is the involvement of guests and the public. NFPA Fire Service Specialist Larry Stewart, who coordinates the ambulance committee, said the process is open to the public with a few minor limitations.
"Guest participation is controlled by discretion of the committee chair," Stewart explained by e-mail. "Guests may contribute or interact with the committee if permitted by the committee chair. Also, if the committee breaks into various working task groups to work on selective issues, non-committee members can take part in task group work."
Seven guests participated in the second committee meeting, and many of them volunteered to participate in work group projects. "We invite them to sit in," Fischler said. "That's why the NFPA is recognized as a reliable and valued consensus-building organization."
But was there a consensus? Before the NFPA process began, some private EMS and ambulance organizations were vocal about being compelled to follow what they considered to be a fire service-influenced standard. Some of those same private EMS representatives are on the NFPA ambulance standards committee.
"I was very pleased," Fischler said of the tone of last month's meeting. "People respected other people's opinions. There was no conflict, and there was the ability to speak your viewpoint without any disrespect."
Stewart said a draft standard could come from the committee as soon as mid-2010, but several meetings will be necessary after that before a final draft is assembled.
Los Angles City Fire Department Chief of Staff Don Frazeur is a member of the committee. He's happy with the aggressive time schedule the committee has adopted. He also said it's been an interesting experience dealing with the differing viewpoints among committee members.
"The committee has quite a breadth of membership," Frazeur pointed out, "and some of the members are user-aware as far as the NFPA process and for some the process is brand new. There will be some learning curve there."
Stringent Standard Needed
Frazeur is very familiar with the process because he chairs the NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus Committee. It's time, he said, for ambulances to have more stringent manufacturing standards just as fire apparatus have, even if the ambulances are not fire service ambulances.
He said the government's federal specifications for ambulances KKK-A-822, which many ambulance makers and purchasers follow, whether for private company or fire service use, is not a standard at all.
"The Triple K is a government specification, and everyone looked at it and said, 'well because it's the government, it's got to be good,'" Frazeur said. "But when you say the government wrote the specification, actually one person did for one small office. There's no consensus. The NPFA brings in the interests of users and manufacturers and shakes it all around and gets a good product as a result."
Fischler, the ambulance committee chairman, said the next step is to trust the work groups to do their jobs. "It's up to them to keep the process going," he said. "We will meet sometime in the spring to look at where we are and continue the process. If there are documents that can be reviewed at that time we will."