New Ambulances an Investment in Safety

All the best vehicle safety practices are reflected in this Canadian service's new units.


Island EMS, a subsidiary company of Nova Scotia-based Medavie EMS, began operating the ground ambulance service in Canada's Prince Edward Island in April 2006. Through a long-term service contract with the PEI government, Island is solely responsible for the delivery of prehospital emergency care and nonemergency transfers for the entire island province. It employs approximately 100 paramedics.

In conjunction with Medavie, Island started working in 2008 on researching a new vehicle design. Leaders consulted with the EMS Safety Foundation to develop a safer ambulance that would provide maximum protection for paramedics, patients and the public. The project involved automobile engineers, ergonomics experts, crash safety engineers, occupancy-protection professionals and conspicuity experts. The team also incorporated work done by IEMS paramedics and management on a multipatient unit they implemented in the spring of 2010.

As the research began, it became clear that one chassis stood out from the rest in reliability, economy and safety: the Mercedes Sprinter, a German-engineered unit equipped with a standard BlueTEC V6 turbo diesel engine that minimizes fuel consumption. The Mercedes also has the longest average maintenance intervals, which makes it very cost-efficient. If that made it appealing, the safety features pushed it over the edge: The vehicle comes equipped with Adaptive ESP (a proprietary electronic stability program), ABS with brake assist, rollover mitigation, and roll movement intervention, all aimed at keeping occupants and members of the public safe. The Sprinter also rates best in class ergonomically.

After months of research and consultation, the team produced a request-for-proposal (RFP) document consisting of 22 sections and more than 68 pages, including required safety testing. The design document was specific in components, equipment and products to be used, with the goal of improving safety engineering and implementing best practices. We allowed the engineers to suggest a layout design reflecting their expert input. We also attended the EMS Safety Foundation's 2010 post-EMS World Expo workshop in Dallas and incorporated feedback from various safety experts there.

The new vehicle design had many key features to allow paramedics to deliver safer care. The first area we focused on was the rear patient compartment--we wanted to arrange it so the paramedic had all their essential and frequently used equipment within arm's reach, so they could remain secured in their seats. A swiveling attendant seat equipped with a shoulder belt was installed instead of a squad bench. The seat swivels 280 degrees and also moves forward and back to allow the paramedic to provide care. The wall console area next to the attendant has a suction unit and an action console that includes lighting, suction, ventilation, intercom and temperature control. There is also a radio.

Above the attendant's head and recessed into the wall are four glove box holders that allow easy access. In front of the seat is a compartment system with the defibrillator secured on top. There is a slide-out writing tray and two compartments that allow for equipment storage below. There is also a kick-open sharps and waste container storage system.

The airway seat allows the attendant to be positioned next to the head of the stretcher, giving them maximum airway control while remaining belted. All seats are ergonomically friendly and fluid-resistant for easy cleaning. The aluminum interior cabinets have a locking mechanism that helps prevent equipment from flying loose in a collision. All exterior equipment is secured with straps and solid doors or walls that can be accessed when the main doors are open. These cabinets include the stair chair, spine boards, portable oxygen and equipment bags used when arriving on scene. There is also a double-locking narcotics storage cabinet that helps secure controlled substances. All areas for entry have grab bars as well as high-visibility yellow padded head-strike zones. The rear lighting is all LED with multilevel lighting ability. The structural integrity of the rear compartment is not reduced in any way.

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