EMS Needs Help

Over the past 40 years, there have been vast improvements in fire apparatus. I’m an old timer, who rode on the tailboard of a ‘53 FWD, getting an air pack on while barely hanging on. (Talk about dumb.)

Just take a moment and think about the apparatus changes that affect our safety – closed cabs – secured equipment – seat belts – better pumps – aerial and driving controls – communications – lighting – warnings. I’m sure you could add a few more.

These changes were demanded by the firefighting community because of the needless deaths and injuries to our brothers. There has been some hard infighting because of both the dollars involved in the upgrade and the macho attitude of a few. (It’s definitely more manly and tougher looking to be hanging on the back step than sitting down inside with a seat belt on.)

These safety changes have been required on all apparatus that meet the National Fire Protection Association 1901 standard. It is hard to say how many lives have been helped or saved by these changes. But you know in your gut, it has been many.

The next area that is crying out for help is the EMS arena. NFPA formed a committee last year to craft its first standard for ambulances. I was appointed a member of the committee at my own request as a representative of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA). A draft standard is expected before the end of this year, and the goal is to make ambulances safer.

Go to www.fireresearch.com/emscrash for videos showing what happens to both patients and EMS personnel in a crash. It’s not pretty. As a matter of fact, you can almost hear the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace for everyone in the back of the bus.

Most EMS service in this country is supplied partially or completely by our fire service, and the demand for medical service is increasing yearly. In many departments, the EMS workload is over 65 percent. Obviously the fire service must get involved in the new NFPA initiative to improve our delivery system by improving on the current specifications.

Think about it. Who in their right mind would ask their employees to stand up, unsupported, in a fast moving vehicle (weaving through traffic) and perform life saving steps (CPR, etc.) on a patient who may be contagious with God knows what?

In addition, the box has many problems, such as protruding objects or outlets, valves and knobs. There are sharp corners that will definitely limit your ability to play chess when your head impacts them in a crash. There are items that are necessary, but they are not fastened or are not sufficiently fastened, and they can become flying missiles in an accident.

The box construction itself should be looked at. Can it withstand a moderate crash with another vehicle or stationary object? Some past accidents have seen the boxes open up and spill personnel all over the street.
Last, but not the least issue, is driver training and monitoring. Driving too quickly with lights and sirens for a sprained wrist does not make a lot of sense. The aim of the fire service is good customer service. The trip to the hospital should not be a hair-raising event.

We had a great fire suppression system and, thanks to the NFPA requirements, we made it better. Let’s do the same for our EMS system.

Editor’s note: Jack McLoughlin, the founder of Fire Research Corporation, is an inventor who holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and over 25 patents in the firefighting and EMS fields. He has been a firefighter for 46 years and an EMT for 15 years. He is a member of the NFPA committee that is developing a new ambulance standard.

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