HEMET, Calif. -- When American Medical Response and the Hemet Fire Department respond to a medical aid call, crews often have to improvise ways to get a patient out of a residence.
Sometimes, patients are dragged on sheets or carried in chairs to get them out of back bedrooms, if the gurney cannot maneuver through hallways or up stairs. This leaves patients in compromising positions and can cause back injuries for paramedics and firefighters.
Now, the agencies have a solution.
AMR introduced a Stair Chair into all of its rigs in the Hemet area in November, and throughout Riverside County over the next several months. The $1,500 contraption with tank-like tracks allows crews to strap a patient in and move them through cramped quarters and down stairs to a waiting ambulance.
"It's worth every penny," said Tommy Booth, an EMT and training officer with AMR. "It will reduce the inconvenience on the patient, help our backs and be safer coming down stairs.
"It's a lot more humane and comfortable to be brought out on this chair than a tarp."
Hemet is first to get the equipment in large part because of its demographics. AMR responds to nearly 12,000 medical aid calls a year in Hemet, many in the city's 10,000 mobile homes, where spaces are cramped and most of the entryways include several stairs.
Booth said about half of the calls in Hemet put crews in situations where a device like this is needed.
While in the ambulance, the Stair Chair folds flat. When pulled out of the rig, it opens to a sitting position and can hold up to 500 pounds. Handles extend from the back and the front, near the footrest. A headrest can be pulled up, and straps hold a patient in around their feet, waist and forehead.
But what makes the chair, manufactured by Michigan-based Stryker, different is the tank-like tracks that can be extended from the back.
With resistance built into the tracks, the chair won't just fall down stairs - a first responder actually has to push the chair down the stairs while another in the front helps balance it.
Large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Las Vegas have used similar devices. Local crews said the version coming to Hemet with the tank tracks is the best model they have seen.
"There was a balance of making sure we didn't get hurt and doing what is best for the patient," Hemet Fire Duty Chief Primo Reynoso said. "This is the answer to it."
The chairs are the second in a number of investments meant to help protect first responders. AMR earlier this year switched to electric, hydraulic gurneys that can raise and lower with the push of a button.
Earlier this month, AMR spent several hours with the Hemet Fire Department and Hemet-area Cal Fire crews training with the new chair, going up and down the stairs outside the Hemet Public Library. The response was universal enthusiasm from fire crews, who said the chair could help extend careers.
"This is a back-saver," firefighter Sean Patterson said. "This will protect a lot of careers."