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Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Gunterville Fire/Rescue
Paying attention while driving any emergency vehicle is clearly a top priority because, in so many cases, defensive driving can result in avoiding a bad situation. Factors such as roadway conditions, weather, speed and vehicle condition/maintenance, but most importantly training are critical in our ability to arrive safely.
In rural Guntersville, AL, last summer, all of those factors as well as the use of seatbelts – and clearly, some divine intervention – resulted in an extremely close call for the EMS personnel involved.
Our sincere thanks to James Wessel, president of the very unusual Samaritan Ambulance in Alabama. Why do I say that? Because, Samaritan Ambulance is based at Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus, near Huntsville. Samaritan Ambulance is a cooperative effort with Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus in which its employees voluntarily staff ambulances (and more; see below) for the community in which the company is based. There was no ambulance service there in the past and the employees began providing that service four years ago as a way to give back to their community.
Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus has 31 full-time personnel. In addition to working in its pre-owned-apparatus business, the employees staff an advanced life support (ALS) engine, rescue and battalion chief’s vehicle during each business day – certainly a non-traditional means of providing community emergency services. We also thank the officers and members of the Guntersville Fire/Rescue as well as Samaritan Ambulance members Jeremy Beard and Patrick Dodson for their assistance with this month’s column.
The crash occurred on Highway 431 in Guntersville. A log truck was making a turn when the logs swung into traffic and into the ambulance. The crew of Samaritan Ambulance was transporting a patient to a hospital at about 50 mph, the legal speed limit. The log went right into the cab of the vehicle and into the EMT passenger seat. Fortunately, EMT Patrick Dodson was in the back with the patient. The driver (Jeremy Beard) was injured, but it didn’t stop him from checking on the patient.
According to witnesses, within seconds, Beard had extricated himself from the cab of the ambulance and was in the back to assist and take care of the patient. As you can see by the photos, the log fired straight through the cab at head level. It is a miracle that the driver survived. Beard and Dodson were both seatbelted. The leadership of Samaritan Ambulance harps on that all the time – all the time – the crews are very good about staying belted (even in the back), but it is certainly good to see that the personnel were following policy.
As you can see, the pictures get progressively more frightening, especially the one showing the log through the passenger-side headrest. Thankfully, no one was in the seat as the crew member was in the back with the patient. And while this close call was unavoidable, the crew did make it into a positive outcome due to training, preparedness and heroism by immediately focusing on others.
The following account is by EMT Patrick Dodson, who was riding in the back of the ambulance with the patient:
I had just moved from the buddy bench to the rear-facing seat and had buckled my seatbelt as soon as I sat down. Shortly thereafter, I remember hearing what sounded like a shotgun blast and being showered with glass. I wasn’t sure at first what happened.
Immediately, I checked on our patient and then on Jeremy, the driver. I was able to assist Jeremy in getting from the cab of the ambulance into the rear of the box by helping him through the walk-through area. We made sure that an ambulance was dispatched for our patient and that medical care was also coming for Jeremy, who was injured from the accident.
Once Jeremy and the patient had been transported, I also went to the emergency department to be checked out. When I realized the severity of the accident, I thanked the Lord for giving me another day with my family. I appreciated Guntersville Fire and Marshall Medical Ambulance being there for us when we needed them.
The following account is by EMT Jeremy Beard, the driver of the ambulance:
We were traveling on Highway 231. Literally one second we are just driving and the next there is a tree about three inches from my face. My first thought was of the patient, so I was able to work my way into the back of the ambulance to assist in checking on Patrick and the patient. The adrenaline of the accident prevented me from even noticing my own injuries until a few minutes later, when other crews arrived to take care of our patient. I was thankful that I was seatbelted in, and thankful that everyone was OK from the accident.
The following comments are from Chief Goldfeder related to emergency vehicle driving:
Other than heart attack and stroke, emergency vehicle operations are when we most often get ourselves and others hurt and killed. Thankfully, the Samaritan Ambulance leadership took (and takes) EMS operations, and specifically the driving of emergency vehicles, seriously. And while this close call could not have been avoided, and thankfully the medic was in the back, “systems in place” such as the use of seatbelts and related training helped contribute to a positive outcome.
Here are a few reminders about the operations of emergency vehicles:
- Drive and don’t text or use your cell phone. Seriously – pay attention.
- Look before exiting or entering – are all doors closed? How about the patient compartment doors?
- Make sure every member who may drive is trained in and follows traffic management guidelines for deploying signs, setting up cones, using warning/blocking vehicles, parking blocking vehicles and placement of ambulances on scenes.
- Secure all equipment in the patient care area, including the cardiac monitor, O2 bottle and jumpkit.
- Wear your seatbelt. Make sure you are secure.
- And for the supervisors and chiefs:
- Do you have a system in place for supervision of your drivers?
- Are your drivers qualified to drive?
- Are your drivers fit to drive the apparatus and equipment?
- Are you aware of your drivers’ current and past driving records?
- Once they are initially trained and certified, how often are drivers re-trained and re-certified?
- What does your insurance provider recommend?
- What does your EMS agency or fire department attorney recommend?
- What are the laws in your state pertaining to the operation of emergency vehicles?
For more information about dapparatus safely, please go to websites such as firehouse.com, usfa.fema.gov, iaff.org, iafcsafety.org, drivetosurvive.org, emergencyvehicleresponse.com, respondersafety.com, firefighterclosecalls.com and everyonegoeshome.com.