Administration and Leadership, Columns

When Too Many Emergency Lights Threaten Provider Eyesight

Issue 2 and Volume 40.

A new year has begun, following the holiday season that symbolizes man’s spiritual capacity to find love and hope, and to spread peace amidst a plethora of vividly decorative, solid-state multicolored, electroluminescenceenhanced diodes. This time of year, instead of treating patients who fell from aloft their exterior abode while temporarily installing their electrical illumination, we now find ourselves treating patients who’ve plummeted while taking down said lighting.

A few weeks into the season my partner and I responded to a patient who fell not from a failed lofty display standpoint, but from a grounded slippery stance. The patient, like many others in the area, had gathered to give observational ornament homage to a neighbor who was a contestant in a house decorating contest, but slipped instead on some sidewalk ice he hadn’t seen secondary to the bedazzling house illumination.

While in the process of packaging the patient for transport (trimming and bows included), I noticed a big blue ribbon on the ambulance windshield. Evidently we had inadvertently won the display contest.

It must have been our ambulance’s highly colored luminesce paint, retroreflective chevron striping and EMS logos combined with gluttonous visibly toxic-laden incandescent, halogenated LED lighting, all with revolving, oscillating and flashing strobe lighting precisely arranged on the ambulance bumper (front and back), grill, dash, roof of cab, visor, bottom side panels, swing mirrors (right and left), doors (in and out), corners (top and bottom), and personal coffee mugs (full or not full). Apparently our ambulance made bystanders’ eyes bleed.

So bears the question: Is there an overabundance of warning lights being used on our ambulances? The adrenalin junkie in me says, “No way, man!! There should be enough radiant illumination out there to draw moths away from structure fires.” The now reading-glasses-veteran side of me, however, asks, “Does getting the attention of other drivers to yield, stop or slow down necessitate the need to deep-fry their II and III cranial nerves?”

Granted, there’s a different breed of driver out there today than the days when medics thought MAST pants were a device relevant for patient care other than just as a floatation device. Cell phone conversations, texting and booming stereo systems in soundproof cars serve as distractors while there are an everincreasing number of potential patients driving impaired from abusing prescription meds and alcohol.

Fatigued drivers and an ever-growing population of elderly drivers hamper reaction times. And lastly, despite an increase in posted speed limits to enhance one’s ability to spend less time on the road, drivers appear to be even more aggressive and impatient … as my middle finger can attest to.

Per protocol, our crews are required to wear reflective safety vests on all traffic scenes, but I’m beginning to feel indiscernible in my competition for optical detection whilst against the backdrop of blinding lights emanating from my flash-for-cash ambulance. Add two fire trucks and several patrol cars with their own composite of various light configurations and programmable flash patterns to the equation and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an airliner confuse our public stretch of road for an airport runway.

When it comes to comparing lamp color visibility (red vs. blue), I previously believed red won, especially during daylight performance hours. That was until LEDs (lucrative eyesight devastation) appeared. Not only do they make every blue light special vividly distinct, but they also help make you look cooler by forcing you to wear your sunglasses at night once activated.

There’s no doubt LED illumination for emergency response vehicles are super super super bright. They’re power efficient, have a strong service life, are easy to fit, draw less electricity, allow for a multitude of flash patterns and reduce wind resistance. But, like everything else, is too much of anything a good thing?

For the record, I’m not a big fan of running emergent with lights and siren to and from scenes, but when used they should be designed to enhance a driver’s ability to detect and safely react to the presence of EMS, fire, and police vehicles on roadways—not confuse and blind the visual perception of our retinas.

Until next time, don’t go into the light … unless of course you’re dying … and are without the benefit of an LED (‘lectric external defibrillator).