The new seats and 5-point harnesses should improve treatment for patients.Robert PeRez
Sentinel Staff Writer
February 28, 2006
WINTER PARK — Paramedics and EMTs take precautions to avoid the dangers of their jobs. But they have little control over being bounced around in the back of an ambulance en route to the hospital.
Often the least-protected passenger is the paramedic providing care for the patient. That can be deadly in a crash.
This week, Winter Park will debut two new ambulances designed to keep paramedics in five-point safety harnesses while giving them unfettered access to their equipment and patients.
The new design could become the standard for the industry, Winter Park fire Chief Jim White said.
“Hopefully, within a year from now, every manufacturer will have a version of this truck,” he said.
The ambulances were specially designed by Medtec Ambulance Corp. of Goshen, Ind., with the help of White and EMS Supervisor Lt. Andrew Isaacs. White and Isaacs spent two years working on the new design, which brings work areas and equipment closer to the paramedic and patient.
“We call it rearranging the furniture,” White said.
The problem with older models used by most agencies is that the only chair with a three-point safety belt in the patient compartment is behind the patient’s head. Generally, medical personnel sit on a bench next to the patient that is equipped with lap belts. But more often than not, paramedics can’t provide basic medical care unless they take off the belt.
Ambulance crashes killed 27 emergency medical professionals between 1991 and 2000, according to a 2003 article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, seven were unrestrained medical personnel in the patient compartment.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has long recognized the shortcomings. A 2004 agency report recommends that ambulance manufacturers and emergency service providers develop restraining systems that let medical workers do the jobs while still providing crash protection.
Winter Park’s new ambulances do just that, White said.
The five-point harness, similar to what NASCAR drivers wear, is attached to a seat that can slide forward toward the patient cot. Retractable shoulder straps allow medical personnel to lean forward over the patient without taking off the harness.
One Medtec official called the new design a “paradigm shift” in the industry.
“The basic ambulance design has been around with few changes since the 1970s,” said Jim Phillips, regional sales manager for Medtec. “It’s unusual that a community like Winter Park would take this bold step. They haven’t had a catastrophic event, and they have relatively short ambulance trips. This is very progressive.”
Medtec now offers the new design as an option, said Phillips, who lives in Winter Park and is a former paramedic. The cost of the vehicles is in line with the industry standard for “large-box” ambulances typically used by local fire departments.
Winter Park’s new ambulances cost $170,000 apiece.
“These were scheduled for replacement,” White said. “We weren’t going to go another decade knowing we didn’t have the best we could have for our firefighters.”
Robert Perez can be reached at 407-322-1298 or [email protected].