Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Ohio EMS fatalities

The Toledo Blade ran a follow-up story to the Ohio EMS fatalities mentioned on this blog yesterday.

With most emergency vehicle crashes, speculation develops about one or two things: was lights and siren transport necessary? and Who had right-of-way? In this crash there was speculation about whether lights and siren were necessary:

Because it appeared the Wellses’ injuries were not life-threatening, “There was no emergency that would warrant running lights and sirens in most people’s eyes,” the sergeant said.

But Sergeant Haas also said something may have happened medically to the couple along the way, causing the ambulance driver to want to get to the hospital more quickly.

“We’re never going to know,” he said. “The people that have that information didn’t make it.”

At least in this case the quote from the police sergeant was balanced.

The right-of-way issue is more complicated. Years ago, ambulances were involved in accidents. "Fault" was the term used to describe the cause of the accident.

Things have changed. Now we call these events crashes or collisions because many are preventable. Fault is important but not the gold standard. An emergency vehicle operator can find themselves not at fault but still in trouble at the agency level because the crash was preventable.

The days of police officers confirming that the lights and sirens were on then automatically giving the other driver a ticket are over. And the results are tragic. This document from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) looks at ambulance crashes from 1991 - 2002.

In this case the police suspect the driver of the ambulance may not have seen the tractor trailer because of its position in the intersection. The ambulance had the stop sign.

The crash here in Maine is still under investigation. In this case the ambulance was on the main road and the truck that struck the ambulance had a stop sign. I'll post details on both crashes as they develop.

The take-home point: July isn't over and we have already lost 4 EMS personnel to motor vehicle crashes. These crashes kill more EMS providers each year than violence and rescues combined.

We must now mourn and pay our respect to those who died doing the job we do every day. It is about healing. About supporting each other in the small towns of Maine and Ohio where we have lost comrades. Details on the crashes can wait.

But today it must also be about safety. About caution. About rethinking the decisions we make every day. And about re-engineering vehicles and practices to provide the safety and piece of mind we deserve as we care for our patients.

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