MEXICO, Maine -- Last year's horrific ambulance accident in Turner (Maine) that killed Med-Care Ambulance Service paramedic Allan D. Parsons made the Mexico-based company brainstorm ways to better protect its employees.
The result is Med-Care's newest ambulance, a $105,000 rebuild that's specially retrofitted in back with two bucket seats and 5- point safety harnesses instead of the previous bench seat and a single lap safety-belt.
The 2008 Ford E450, which gets pressed into service this week, replaces the ambulance in which Parsons was killed and driver Arlene Greenleaf seriously injured when, in the early morning of July 5, it was struck by a pickup driven by Christopher Boutin, 29, of Turner.
Police claim Boutin was driving drunk at about 3 a.m. when he pulled his truck into the path of the ambulance, which was driving down Route 4 with its emergency lights on.
Med-Care Executive Director Dean Milligan said Tuesday that the collision violently tossed Parsons around in the ambulance. Parsons was not wearing the lap belt, because he couldn't and still administer intravenous fluids to a seriously injured Dixfield woman being taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Milligan said.
"It was fairly obvious from the accident that we needed to stop an EMT's forward progress, that they needed to stay belted and, for the most part, still perform their duties," he said.
The five-point harness, which is similar to that worn by race car drivers, allows shoulder straps to expand outward along with the seat, enabling medics to continue tending to patients.
"It works just like the ones in your car. You can still move forward, but if there's a sudden motion, they lock up," Med-Care board Chairman Steve Brown said. "Paramedics have to be able to work on a patient while the ambulance is going or they could lose them. This accident really brought home to us how vulnerable our employees are, so we wanted to do the best we could to keep them safe and yet still let them provide patient care," Brown said.
Black netting was also added to theof the seat closest to the front of the ambulance to further impede forward progress into compartments.
The seat backs are also removable to allow use of a second backboard should they need to carry more than one patient.
"We didn't want to lose that because we do that quite a bit with car accidents," Milligan said.
The retrofitted equipment was engineered by PL Custom of New Jersey through Sugarloaf Rescue, where Med-Care gets its ambulances. The changes cost about $8,000.
Milligan said Med-Care would be retrofitting its other ambulances with the improved safety equipment once additional funding can be obtained, and hoped that other ambulance services across the state would follow suit.
"This was something that the Med-Care board wanted to look into as long as it was within reason and costs. We want this to definitely set a standard for what all of our ambulances will be. Moving forward, this is one of the things that Allan's parents wanted, not just recognition of EMS people, but finding ways to be safer," Milligan said.
The state's case against Boutin, who was charged with manslaughter and drunken driving in connection with the crash, is pending.