Administration and Leadership, Commentary, Exclusives, Operations

Ambulance Safety: Paramedic and EMS Leader Helps Agencies Coach Drivers for Safer Outcomes & Cost Savings

Brent Thor

Brent Thor has worked as an EMS professional and public safety expert for over 25 years. He started his career in the Fire/EMS industry in California in 1988. Thor worked as a firefighter/paramedic and as an industry leader in operations, management, technology and training.

After leaving the public safety sector, Brent worked for a variety of organizations in EMS software and is currently the Director of Public Safety for ORBCOMM, an industrial technology company with a focus on fleet management and in-cab driver safety solutions.

In this interview, Thor discusses the importance of driver safety in EMS, his personal passion for safety and the evolution of technology within EMS and fire.

JEMS: Why is the topic of ambulance safety so important to you personally?

Thor: In 1990, I was involved in an ambulance crash. Since then, driver training and ensuring that the person behind the wheel is driving safely has always been of personal interest for me. Throughout my EMS and fire career, there was always an emphasis on: “Hey, slow down; be safe.” If it takes us an extra minute, it takes us an extra minute. But if we don’t get there, we don’t do any good at all.

JEMS: What are the biggest challenges you see in improving vehicle safety in EMS?

Thor: The biggest hurdle is the mindset of culture of safety. EMS personnel are heroic, and sometimes that heroic attitude creates perhaps needlessly unsafe conditions. EMS leaders that don’t believe they can do the job both efficiently and safely do not instill a safety culture in their staff.

JEMS: Can you tell us how ambulance services are reducing operational costs and liability while improving safety?

Thor: By utilizing new technologies—such as in-cab driver mentoring—organizations are able to both improve safety and cut maintenance costs considerably. This is mostly due to safer driving reducing wear and tear on vehicles and improving fuel economy. With these innovations, organizations can see up to a 40% reduction in maintenance costs. Plus, improved driving and a focus on safety translates to fewer workers’ comp injuries and an improved bottom line.

These savings can then be invested into improving service with more vehicles, more staff, better training, materials and other technologies.

JEMS: How do technologies help improvement in driver’s safety and performance? And how long does it take to see results?

Thor: Real-time feedback and in-cab driver mentoring trains drivers daily to be more efficient and safer every time they get in a vehicle. An EMS service should be able to make significant improvements within 90 days by training drivers to drive safely and according to the agency’s policies.

JEMS: Let’s be honest, in-vehicle monitoring solutions won’t likely receive the warmest welcome from drivers. How does an agency leader deal with staff fears and frustrations?

Thor: Organizations need to look at it as a coaching tool for driver safety and avoid taking a punitive approach. Organizations that use these technologies as a positive training tool find buy-in from their employees because they don’t feel like: “Oh, they’re out to get me.” Instead, they understand that the focus is to make sure that everyone, the crew, the patient and fellow drivers go home safely every day.

JEMS: How can EMS leaders use data from their vehicle safety system to improve safety?

Thor: With the ability to track each driver’s improvement process, EMS leaders can have constructive conversations with their staff about opportunities for improvement and those “out of the ordinary” situations that arise. And, this data can be used to map characteristics of an ideal driver to identify which drivers you want to provide more training to before you put them on the road.

JEMS: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career in EMS?

Thor: Safety trumps everything. As a paramedic or an EMT going through school, we talk about scene safety, but safety as a whole has to be a priority. Everything can be done efficiently, but we can also slow down, take a deep breath and do it safely. We are taught that running at a scene isn’t safe, so the same should apply to how we drive to that scene.