If you’ve ever responded to an emergency in an ambulance or fire engine, you are likely familiar with how dynamic the interactions between our vehicles and civilians’ can be. Continued advances in the acoustic insulation of vehicles can prevent drivers from recognizing the presence of an emergency vehicle by its siren. Even when drivers recognize an emergency vehicle, they sometimes react in unpredictable ways. These factors lead to an inherent risk of vehicle crashes during emergency responses.
While comprehensive crash statistics accounting for all types of emergency vehicles are lacking, the American Ambulance Association has reported an estimated 10,000 ambulance-related collisions each year.1 As noted on EMSWorld.com, the majority of these incidents do not appear to be reported by mainstream media, which might lead to gross underestimates of the frequency of such incidents.2 Nonetheless, we know these incidents often lead to injury or death for those involved. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) reported that approximately 10% of line-of-duty-deaths (LODDs) among firefighters are attributed to motor vehicle crashes,3 while a 2011 study of fatal and nonfatal injuries among EMTs and paramedics found nearly half of EMS LODDs resulted from highway incidents.4 Such alarming statistics indicate a need for increased public safety education initiatives.
Students in the Emergency Services program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Virginia were recently tasked with creating a public service announcement (PSA) as a project for one of their classes. The course, “Advanced Principles of Safety and Survival,” is based in the 16 life safety initiatives developed by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The overall purpose of the course is to instill a mind-set in the students that will help reduce LODDs in all aspects of emergency services. The assignment required students to create a PSA that could help break the chain of causation for any type of LODD mechanism. One group chose to address the dangers of emergency vehicle response. You can watch their video here: http://www.emsworld.com/video/10881718.
The students hope their project will provide drivers with a simple memory aid for remembering the appropriate actions when they encounter an emergency vehicle. They developed the acronym SLOW, which stands for slow down, look around, move over and wait before reentering the roadway. Not only did these students conceive this initiative, they also created a logo and took it upon themselves to pursue numerous collaborations within the community for the production of their PSA.
The assignment required all the students to film their PSAs, but the focus was more on the message than the quality of the product—we didn’t expect the students to be proficient with video production. To help them get started, we arranged for a local news reporter to visit the class and offer the students advice on developing their projects. The students then went on to enlist the help of a local rescue squad and secured permission to film their project at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s “Smart Road” research facility. They also convinced a local radio DJ to do a voice-over after they pieced all their footage together.
The students who created this project are expected to graduate this spring as part of the inaugural class of the Emergency Services program, a four-year paramedic program leading to a bachelor’s degree in Emergency Services. Their efforts paid off when a local news station aired their project on New Year’s Day. Says John Cook, MBA, NREMT-P, Director of the Emergency Services Program, “These students embody the mission of Jefferson College of Health Sciences and should be applauded for their efforts to make a difference in their new profession.”
About Jefferson College of Health Sciences
Jefferson College of Health Sciences is a professional health sciences college located in Roanoke, VA. In addition to the Bachelor of Science in Emergency Services, they offer numerous baccalaureate and associate degree healthcare programs, as well as master’s degree programs in nursing, physician assistant and occupational therapy. The college is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Emergency Services program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) in collaboration with the Committee on Accreditation for Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP).
1. American Ambulance Association. Position Paper: Safe Driving Statement, www.the-aaa.org/about/positionpapers/safedriving.html.
2. Ballam E. Ambulance crash roundup. EMS World, www.emsworld.com/article/10225399.
3. U.S. Fire Administration. Firefighter Fatalities Statistics and Reports. A Snapshot of Firefighter Fatalities (2007–2011), http://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/statistics.
4. Reichard AA, Marsh SM, Moore PH. Fatal and nonfatal injuries among emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Prehosp Emerg Care, 2011 Oct–Dec; 15(4): 511–7.
Elliot D. Carhart, EdD, RRT, NRP, NCEE, is an assistant professor in the Emergency Services program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, VA. He earned his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, where his studies focused on healthcare education. He is a former firefighter/paramedic and currently practices as a registered respiratory therapist at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.