By JENNIFER NEJMAN
For The Evening Sun
Article Launched: 01/29/2007 10:01:02 AM EST
Some EMS experts say they are seeing more ambulance crashes in this area. They range from fender-benders to more serious crashes, such as the one last week at routes 30 and 616 in West Manchester Township. Officials are still reviewing whether the ambulance-vehicle collision played any role in the death of a 42-year-old Gettysburg woman who was in cardiac arrest. A Biglerville Hose and Truck Co. No. 1 ambulance was taking her to York Hospital when the ambulance collided with a Chevrolet Impala. Officials at Lehigh Valley Medical Center are reviewing Fawn Sova’s medical records and conducting testing beyond a preliminary autopsy.
The situation is an unfortunate one, and emergency medical technicians often are upset when accidents occur, said Steve Lyle, executive director of the Emergency Health Services Federation, a nonprofit council. “EMS people, their mantra is ‘Do no harm.’ Our goal is to help people. It takes a long time to get past if they do someone harm,” he said. Biglerville Fire Chief Dominic Englebert could not be reached for comment for this story.
Many factors contribute
Experts say many factors are leading to increases in ambulance-vehicle accidents. They cite more calls for emergency medical technicians, heavy traffic on Route 30, distractions for both emergency drivers and motorists, and younger EMS drivers. “I’ve got to be honest with you, almost every week you hear of one in the southcentral (area),” Lyle said. His council covers eight counties, including York and Adams. The council does not track ambulance accidents now but is working on implementing a program to do so, he said.
Lyle said he didn’t want to call it an odds-game, but he said the more hours ambulances spend on the road, the more likely they are to crash. Add drivers who have their windows up because it’s winter or are talking on cell phones or pulling out in front of ambulances, and that can cause problems. Most ambulance accidents occur during the day, Lyle said, adding that flashing lights are more noticeable at night.
Lt. Bryan Einsig of West York Ambulance trains EMTs to drive ambulances. Einsig said age and experience play a role in avoiding accidents. A person could obtain EMT certification at 16, but insurance companies do not allow people to drive until they are 18. Most require the driver to be 21, Einsig said. Based on numbers he has seen, Einsig said, a large portion of the accidents in this county in 2006 involved drivers who were younger than 25.
“We’re actually seeing an influx of younger individuals into the EMS field,” Einsig said. Most EMTs in York County are between the ages of 20 and 45 years old. Einsig has been in the field 23 years. He said it took him a good four to six years before he really felt proficient at driving. Those skills come only through practice and additional training, he said.
Einsig said he wonders if available technology could have prevented last week’s crash. Some municipalities have devices on traffic lights that allow EMS personnel to safely change the signals as an additional warning to drivers. Einsig said West Manchester Township, where the crash occurred, does not have that technology. The equipment is expensive, but Einsig said taxes some municipalities or school districts can levy for public safety efforts should be used to off-set the cost. “It’s not just for the safety of the driver, but to increase the quality of patient care that is needed in a time of life-saving emergency,” he said.
Lyle, of the emergency services council, said use of that technology should depend upon the intersection. He has heard of cases in the United States in which fire trucks coming from one direction and police coming from another both clicked the signal to green. The result: They crashed, Lyle said.
West York Ambulance and other area ambulances also have installed digital cameras inside ambulances to record accidents. The technology records the drivers’ reactions, which they believe encourages them to be more responsible, and what happens outside the vehicle. In addition to EMT training, drivers must take a 16-hour driving course. Ambulance company requirements beyond the basic course vary.
Some require driving on scheduled transports of patients between hospitals and nursing homes or in between calls before taking the wheel in emergency situations. EMT drivers are trained to make eye contact with other drivers, when possible, to make sure they understand where the ambulance is going, Einsig said.
Shannon Tracey, director of operations at White Rose Ambulance, which serves the City of York and North York, said she does not believe there has been an increase in accidents, it’s just that they receive a lot of attention. “For as much as we do, we don’t have many accidents,” she said.
Lyle said the goal of EMS providers is to travel as few miles under lights and sirens as possible. Of course, ambulances exist for the situation when patients require a fast ride to hospitals. “I think we’re going to continue to see an increase (in accidents), to a degree, because our call volume is going to keep increasing and the amount of traffic on the roadway is going to keep increasing,” Lyle said.
If you hear ambulance sirens and see flashing lights, as a driver, you should:
Pull to the right edge of the road. EMT ambulance drivers try to stay far left.
Watch as the ambulance makes a path. It might be appropriate to move your vehicle left, especially on multi-lane roads.
You should not:
Dart in front of an ambulance to get ahead of it.
Break laws, such as running red lights.