An EMT who is used to responding to others in need, Chelsey Hepp, of Hall Ambulance in California, recently found herself suddenly becoming a patient. “It puts things into perspective,” Hepp says. “Even when we are doing the right thing and not driving distracted, accidents still happen. It was strange to be in a situation of doing things right and to be affected by others not following the rules.”
On the evening of Saturday, Feb. 20, Hepp and paramedic Kevin McClanahan were transporting a patient to the hospital when the unimaginable happened: As Hepp made a left turn, another vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed ran a red light and struck the ambulance's front end and driver’s side front quarter panel.
While Hepp says she did not really have time to process what was happening, dramatic video from inside the ambulance cab shows her noticing the oncoming vehicle and bracing herself mere seconds before impact.
McClanahan was providing a report to the receiving hospital. With his microphone keyed, hospital staff heard the collision occur. Concerned and fearing the worst, staff there immediately contacted Hall Ambulance’s dispatch center to advise them of what they heard.
Hepp recalls hearing McClanahan giving his report, then after the crash hearing groaning—he sounded injured. She asked if he was OK, and he confirmed he was. Their patient had remained restrained on the gurney and was not experiencing any change from their original condition. McClanahan, who has worked at Hall Ambulance for 15 years, refocused on the task at hand and continued to care for his patient in the back of the wrecked ambulance until others arrived to take over and reinitiate transport to the hospital.
Shaken, Hepp heard people hitting the window of the ambulance and shouting that someone needed help as they opened the driver’s door. Hepp, who recently celebrated her fifth year at Hall Ambulance, says she felt an automatic response kick in and flashed back to her basic training. She made her way over to the individual to begin providing medical aid—despite having just been involved in a crash herself.
Within moments another Hall unit arrived on the scene, where its crew provided additional assistance to the other vehicle's passenger. They were soon joined by a Hall Ambulance paramedic field supervisor, the Bakersfield Police Department, and Bakersfield Fire Department. A third Hall Ambulance unit arrived to take the original patient being transported.
As a matter of public education, Hall Ambulance is releasing photos of the scene and video footage of the crash taken from an onboard camera that recorded forward-facing and inside the cab of the ambulance. Hall Ambulance implemented this safety upgrade on every ambulance in its fleet in 2020. In addition, each ambulance is equipped with the ZOLL Road Safety device, similar to a black box data recorder. The device monitors dozens of ambulance driver behaviors, such as speed, braking, turn signals, and more.
Hall Ambulance hopes the footage serves as a vivid reminder that motorists should pay attention to traffic signals and stop signs and be aware when traveling on roadways, particularly when proceeding through intersections. Hepp reemphasizes the importance of safe driving by saying, “Regardless of what is going on, it is never a safe option to disobey traffic laws—for everyone else’s safety and your own.”
Mark Corum is director of media services for Hall Ambulance in Kern County, Calif.