Administration and Leadership, Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, Operations

Value of a Clean Windshield

Issue 12 and Volume 35.

I like a clean windshield, Life-Saver. Doesn’t matter whether I’m driving or riding with somebody, and I don’t mind cleaning it myself. I feel like my whole day starts out wrong without that one thing, especially in the dark.

You may think this is nonsense. Who cares if the windshield’s clean? I think it’s important for three reasons: Driving is safer and more pleasant that way; it makes the wipers work better in bad weather; and it tells other people something about you as a professional (like when family members accompany you on transports.)

See, it’s not just the big stuff you do that gets you recognized as a professional. It’s all the little things. Plenty of us can just sort of get the job done. But when you use people’s names, calmly explain stuff to them in advance, keep the sun out of their eyes, address the needs of their family members, provide a smooth ride and do all those other small things, and then put them in an ambulance that looks special … well, you’re special.

I’ve always been fussy about my glass. When I was in high school, I carpooled with some friends, and their dad was a chain smoker. He was a nice man, but every time I took a seat in his old green ’55 Chevy station wagon, I saw the film on the inside of his windows. Later in life, part of my job at a Shell gas station was taking care of my boss’ truck. He was also a heavy smoker, and there was that same schmutz on the inside of his windows—a yellowish-brown film that defied my best cleaning efforts.

After I was married, I marveled at the way dirty glass didn’t seem to bother Saint Sue. A lot of other things apparently didn’t bother her either, and for those things I hope my gratitude never fades like the rest of me.

I think when you grow up wearing corrective lenses, you get a little fussier than the average observer. Then, maybe you study some photography, and you develop a sense for the importance of clean lenses. Finally, you spend your life in a discipline like EMS, and you really start to notice the world around you. Dirty glass becomes a barrier when you find yourself in a driving rain, searching for the tell-tale signs of a vehicle over the side of the road. (Again, especially at night.)

My brother, Chris, is a clean freak. He’s a trained observer in his own right; he’s a fine photographer and a prominent lighting designer. He drives an ’04 Taco that always looks like it just came from a showroom. Five minutes after it rains on that little truck, he’s got it wiped down. And, his glass is always spotless.

You don’t need to be crazy to be a good EMS provider. But you deserve to know Chris’ shortcuts to clean glass—beginning with towels. For one thing, he uses paper, not cloth. Even the cleanest cloth towels leave a soapy residue, which means streaks. He uses paper instead. (Recycled paper towels do a good job; so does newspaper.)

Try using circular strokes on one side of the glass, like the outside, then straight strokes on the inside. Or, use vertical strokes on the outside and horizontal ones on the inside. That makes it easy to identify the source of a streak.

A squeegee with a 24- or 30-inch handle is a good tool for drying the outside of a wet windshield. If you use one, make sure to dry the blade before each stroke.

This will keep you from leaving water trails. Also, try to avoid cleaning the glass in direct sunlight. Hot glass will crack if you cool it too fast, and it will evaporate solvents almost immediately. (I’ve never found anything that beats the Windex brand as a solvent.)

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the importance of cracks. They’ll spread during normal driving, and even a small one will weaken the windshield. According to Cap Unrein, a master mechanic at Emergency Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Services (EVMARS) in Denver, your windshield is an essential component of your airbag system.

Clean your wiper blades occasionally with a little isopropyl alcohol (an alcohol prep contains enough for both of them). Remove bugs from the windshield promptly, especially in sunny weather. Squashed ones contain enough resins and proteins to defeat your wipers instantly in the event of rain or splash-back.

I’m no expert on anything, but you can bet money on these tips. Let’s face it. Nothing should get in the way of a trained observer.

At least, nothing you can fix. JEMS

This article originally appeared in December 2010 JEMS as “Mean Streaks: Caring for your glass.”