Florida Rescuers Design Safer Ambulance

Paramedics at Winter Park Fire Rescue Department weren't willing to settle for the run-of-the mill ambulances any longer. They designed their own.

They dug their heels in to get what they wanted - a safer and more efficient vehicle. Even when manufacturers tried to talk them out of the modifications, they held fast, said Paramedic Lt. A.J. Isaacs, the project manager.

After reviewing ambulance crash studies from NIOSH, Isaacs said he was determined that changes would be made. And, Chief Jim White agreed that safety was paramount.

Isaacs said it just made absolutely no sense why someone would need to stand to tend to a patient who is secured to the cot. NIOSH crash tests involving a slow speed collision showed the attendant seated in the CPR seat being pushed into the radio and light panel, striking their head. It was the first thing to go in Winter Park's new ambulances.

Instead, there's a seat on the opposite side with five-point safety restraints for the paramedic. While belted, they still have complete access to the patient and equipment.

The control panel for the lights and radio has been moved to that side and sits at an angle. At the right of the attendant's seat are cabinets holding needles and IV equipment and the drug box. On the other side, is one for the sharps box and trash.

"There's absolutely no reason to stand up," Isaacs said. "It's all here within reach."

The airway management chair is equipped with a regular harness and lap belt. The EKG monitor is on a shelf where the CPR seat is in most ambulances. The shelf slides in order for the paramedic to keep an eye on the patient's heart rhythm.

The department has automatic CPR devices for cardiac arrest patients.

A DVD player is mounted above the rear door, and while en route to the hospital the patient watches a message from the county medical director. The attendant selects the topic depending on the type of call or complaint.

The two Medtec ambulances which cost $170,000 each, also have been equipped with new stretchers, ones that Paramedic Lt. Pat McCabe said will prevent back injuries. By pushing a button, the cots raise or lower.

In addition to the safety features, the ambulances have a hydraulic generator to run an air conditioner to keep the box cool. McCabe said in the Florida heat it was impossible to keep the patient compartment cool.

And, they've taken advantage of empty space by adding to two compartments accessible from the outside to store extra oxygen cylinders.

A NIOSH study of ambulance crashes showed more than 70 percent of EMS personnel rarely used belts while riding in the patient compartment. At slow speed, the box often goes forward and dips down, tossing attendants into the bulkhead.

On Wednesday, the NIOSH researchers also took a look at the Winter Park ambulance features, and indicated they were impressed.

Isaacs said while the ambulance he designed meets KKK specifications, he would eventually like to see the restraints become part of nationwide standards.

The Winter Park Department has asked NIOSH to perform tests to determine if the restraints really do protect the attendants.

Companies interested in the design can contact Jim Philips at Med Tec, who worked closely with his hometown fire department to make their concept become a reality.