OK, Life-Saver. More about ambulance cots. If you’ve read JEMS for a while, you may recall they’ve published a ton of stuff in the past 34 years about stretchers, ambulance cots, patient movement strategies and even the history of it all. They’ve spent time with pioneers, designers, mechanics and patients—some of whom are no longer alive. And sadly, they’ve also published stories about fine caregivers who walked away from the work they loved, damaged forever by the nature of their calling and the designs of their tools.
I’ll never stop bringing this up. You’d have to kill me. And according to some really sick people I’ve known, there is life after death—so maybe not even then.
At about the turn of the current century, a Canadian medic named Mike Catoe collaborated with engineer Joe Legasse to develop the first self-lifting cot. It was made of stainless steel, and powered by compressed air from an SCBA tank. Joe bought the idea and called it the LiteLift. He founded a company called Tech Lite to produce it and, to our amazement, brought us a pre-production model. We played with that thing for four whole days, and learned more about it than you would ever want to know. JEMS published its story about 10 years ago.
I’m not sure if Tech Lite is still developing ambulance cots. Last I heard, their name had changed to Tactical. But the idea of a self-lifting cot secured its place in history. Three manufacturers subsequently developed analogous products of their own. Two of them are active, including one whose president once told me to forget the whole idea, because it just couldn’t be done.
Anybody who’s ever used a modern self-lifter will tell you, its power doesn’t come cheap. These are expensive tools, and they’re really heavy. They do a great job of loading and unloading, so they’re perfect for bed-to-bed interfacility transfers. But if your job is taking care of sick people wherever you find them, bring your imagination—and maybe some strong friends.
These devices are getting better. But precisely because they’re so heavy, they don’t always facilitate movement.
I have a question for you, no matter what kind of stretcher you use. How much does it weigh? I mean, really. Not according to the specs on a manufacturer’s website, but in your ambulance, the way you really use it. You deserve to know that, Life-Saver. It’s a critical variable, like the fuel level in your vehicle—essential to the analysis of any transport challenge. You need it at your fingertips on every call, along with your number of available crewmembers, your destination, your routing, your patient’s status and weight, the weather and temperature, and the topography between you and your ambulance.
We all overlook resources, sometimes, especially the ones we seldom access. And thanks to a smart medic named Steve Steele, you may be about to discover one you’ve never harnessed. Steve thought of visiting the coroner’s office in our service area. Coroner’s office workers don’t get a lot of conversational visitors.
Maybe for that reason, they’re friendly. They have coffee. And they have accurate, cot-sized scales. We took one of our new self-lifting cots to the county coroner’s office in our little town. The sales rep had told our crews (twice) that those cots weighed 120 lbs. At the time of this publication, the manufacturer’s website lists them at 125 lbs., without a mattress or straps—like you could ever run a call that way.
According to the coroner’s scale, that number was actually 141 lbs. And equipped the way we use them, they weigh 172. Good to know, right? The whole point of which is not how some manufacturers market their products. Everything you attach to a cot adds to its weight, and there are some tools you simply must attach to a stretcher to make it an ambulance cot.
The point is, know your resources. Be sure of your facts, by doing routinely what the field teaches you every day: to wonder about stuff and investigate it. And if you decide to visit the people who do that other tough job, maybe you could take them some coffee.