All Vehicles Are Not Created Equal - Vehicle Ops - @

All Vehicles Are Not Created Equal

Unlocking the specifics of your vehicle is key to patient care



Thom Dick | From the November 2012 Issue | Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I can't count how many times I've heard perfectly good fleet managers puzzling over the ignorance (and supposed stupidity) of perfectly good medics who didn't understand or respect their perfectly good ambulances. Nor would I care to repeat some of those medics’ sentiments about mechanics I respect to this day.

It doesn’t take a genius to pinpoint the basis for that kind of mutual misperception. And make no mistake, the fact that it happens should make perfect sense to all of us. Who teaches your medics anything about auto mechanics before they find themselves entrusted with the welfare of their first patient, partner or ambulance? Do you? Because if you do, that makes you pretty special. And if you don’t, you’re sadly underestimating the potential value of people who observe things for a living.

I’m convinced most crews don’t have any access to formal education about their ambulances’ mechanical systems, or their ambulance cots. (Those are the two very things most likely to produce career-ending, life-altering, even lethal injuries.) In any other industry, before you entrust someone you barely know with that kind of responsibility, it would make sense to teach them how stuff works. Incidentally, that should probably include a few things in addition to cots and ambulances. Radios, for instance. The physics of suction. Compressed gases, battery chemistry and fire behaviors.

That’s not all. What about those people who are never assigned a regular ambulance, you know? Who show up for duty, pick up a set of keys, grab their narcs and meet a partner du jour in the parking lot? Well, they’re like shadows. They never learn the normal behaviors of their equipment (or the people they work with). They can hide in a system for years while you wonder what they know, how carefully they check their equipment, and what kind of wear they inflict on it.

We could do much better. All vehicles are not created equal. A good crew, routinely assigned to a piece of equipment, soon becomes a system’s resident experts on that equipment.

Maybe you think that’s not important, and maybe it's not. For instance, when a vehicle’s front brakes start squealing. Just try isolating the cause for an intermittent brake warning light, with no history to guide you. Or intermittent failures to start with no circumstantial information.

See, those are both critical failures just waiting to happen. You could use a little help, don’t you think?

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Related Topics: Vehicle Ops, Ambulances, vehicle operations, ambulances, 2012 buyer's guide, Jems Features

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Thom Dick

has been involved in EMS for 43 years, 23 of them as a full-time EMT and paramedic in San Diego County. He's currently the quality care coordinator for Platte Valley Ambulance, a hospital-based 9-1-1 system in Brighton, Colo. Contact him at


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