It Takes More Than Wheels to Make an Ambulance
It has been estimated that about 30,000 vehicles of all types throughout the United States are used to transport the sick and injured. Only 25 percent were designed and built specifically as ambulances, and many of them are merely elongated conveyances. But there is a trend toward making the ambulance a true “traveling emergency ward.”
The extensive equipment carried by a well-prepared life squad is aimed at getting the patient to the hospital alive and in as good a condition as possible.
In a wistful comment on this situation, Dr. Oscar P. Hampton, heading the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons, remarked that “casualties on the streets should get as good treatment as those on the battlefield,” And certainly many a traffic-accident victim with multiple fractures has screamed all the way to the hospital in a rough-riding truck that is called an ambulance because it has a flasher on top.
There is still no national standard for ambulance equipment and independent services establish their own. Los Angeles, for example, requires that a privately operated ambulance carry:
One 4-wheel cot with adjustable head position.
Six complete sets of linen
One pillow and one blanket for each cot and stretcher
Sufficient oxygen, with mask and regulators, for not less than 45 minutes
Medicine cabinet with first aid equipment
Leg and arm splints
The suburban Mack, Ohio, Life Squad carries these things, plus a good many more—an obstetrics kit, for example, as well as a portable power saw and power jacks for extricating victims from wrecks.
Results of survey
Just what makes a good ambulance? A recent private survey of ambulance service operators from coast to coast has come up with some answers which point to this conclusion:
An ambulance is not merely a conveyance which can carry a person in a reclining position. It should deliver the patient to medical assistance in no worse condition then when he was picked up. And this may be quite an order. Many respondents” to this survey stressed the need for adequate interior room for patients, attendants and equipment. A modern high-body ambulance can carry four patients, five if necessary, plus an attendant in the rear compartment—with plenty of room for equipment. And a heart attack victim can be transported in a sitting position, which often is important.
If these are the requirements, why not use a converted truck? First, the truck, with a suspension engineered for heavy cargo and possible overloading, can be expected to give a rougher ride. Secondly, there is the matter of acceleration and maneuverability. Almost all the respondents to the survey said that excessive speed usually is not necessary, but “handling in traffic” is an important factor.
Professional ambulances hug the road and give a good account of themselves in almost any traffic situation. They’re a tough, special breed of car built on a special chassis supplied by a major auto manufacturer.
Recently the City of Omaha Fire Division retired its van-type vehicles and placed in service four professional ambulances built by the Hess & Eisenhardt Company. Captain Edwin G. Thilliander made this report to his superior concerning the operation of one of the new ambulances:
“In November with the old squad, we responded to 130 alarms, drove 1,078 miles and used 275 gallons of gasoline. In December with the new squad, we responded to 154 alarms, drove 1,168 miles and used 210 gallons of gas. We responded to 24 more alarms, drove 90 more miles and used 65 gallons of gas less.
“The ease of driving and moving the car through traffic has enabled us to lower the time-out-service on an alarm to between 18 and 22 minutes on an average. With the old squad it was probably between 27 and 32 minutes per call.
“One example of time-out-service on this alarm: At 12:50 p.m., squad was sent in answer to an alarm that a child had drunk gasoline. We gave the child first aid and took him to St. Joseph’s Hospital. There we . . . got information we needed for our report and went back into service with squad at 1:12 p.m. for a total elapsed time of 22 minutes. In the old car, without a doubt it would have been 16 to 20 minutes longer.”
Ambulance service may be financed by taxes, fees collected from patients, special fund-raising efforts—and perhaps by a combination of all of these. Financing is a problem. But, strangely it seems to be a greater problem in the larger cities.
Many a major city hauls the sick and injured in station wagons or converted trucks—while a suburban life squad may boast one or more $20,000 professional ambulances. And you can make that $25,000 if you include the equipment inside.