County ambulance purchase made with paramedic safety in mind 

By Chad Ingram

Dec. 20 2016

Haliburton County will proceed with the purchase of a new single-stretcher ambulance after councillors had questions answered during a Dec. 14 meeting.

EMS director and paramedic chief Craig Jones had made a request at council’s Nov. 23 meeting that the municipality proceed with the purchase noting that manufacturer Crestline would give the county a three per cent savings on a $140000 2017 model if council agreed to the purchase before Nov. 30.

However there was some concern about switching from a dual-stretcher to single-stretcher vehicle and councillors decided they wanted more information before going ahead.

During the Dec. 14 meeting Jones presented a report with statistics showing the single-stretcher model which has a three-point seatbelt for the paramedic working in the back of the vehicle is safer for paramedics.

“This decision was made based on paramedic safety” Jones told council.

His report cited studies including a 2011 report from the American National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health showing that lap belts the type worn by paramedics in the rear of an ambulance configured with two stretchers had a much higher tendency of causing injury to paramedics in the case of a crash including abdominal injuries spine fractures and head injuries.

“That report showed significant injuries to paramedics and fatalities” Jones said.

Because lap belts restrict paramedics’ ability to tend to patients it’s also common for paramedics to remove the belts while riding the backs of ambulances.

“When properly used the squad bench lap belts position the paramedic against the side wall making it impossible for the worker to bend forward to access the patient” Jones’s report reads. “Therefore in order for the paramedic to lean forward stand up or change positions as needed to reach the patient or equipment the seat belt must be removed. This places them at higher risk of striking bulkheads cabinets shelves or other occupants during a crash.”

Three-point seat belts allow paramedics to remain strapped in while performing many functions.

“The ministry ambulance dispatch reporting system indicates that since Jan. 1 2014 to Nov. 28 2016 Haliburton County paramedic service has responded to 7529 emergency calls” the report reads.

“Through an audit ambulance call reports it was noted that 46 scene calls or 0.61 per cent were emergency calls that presented more than one patient. Thirty-five of those calls transported more than one patient and of those 35 only 10 or .001 per cent were calls where two stretchers were required.”

Jones also said that patients who didn’t require a stretcher could travel in a jump seat in the vehicle and pointed out that one paramedic can only care for one patient at a time.

As she had expressed at the Nov. 23 meeting Minden Hills Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch said she was concerned about what would happen should a situation arise where there were multiple injured parties.

“I sympathize and I want the paramedics to be safe” Murdoch said “but I also don’t want to end up in a critical situation where we have multiple patients.”

Jones said there was always that small chance but stressed the county also has shared services agreements with surrounding municipalities whereby ambulances from other communities would come in if necessary.

“I think this is a very good report” said Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt. “To me that’s what was missing was the amount of information.”

Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen who sits on the Rural Ontario Municipal Association board said she’d polled ROMA board members and that there was a mixture of opinions of one-stretcher versus two-stretcher ambulances.

“There seemed to be no right answer” Danielsen said. “There were rational arguments on both sides.”

“I think it is a bit of a philosophy shift . . . but based on your report I’m comfortable with having a single stretcher” said Dysart et al Deputy-reeve Andrea Roberts.

The county has seven ambulances some of which have two stretchers and some of which have one.