Emergency Medical Technicians are highly skilled professionals that we, as a community, depend on when someone is injured or critically ill. EMT’s see a variety of patients; in one day they may care for a confused Alzheimer patient found wandering on the street, an unresponsive overdose victim, and an elderly woman debilitated from the flu. Emergency Medical Technicians are able to quickly focus on the patient and the tasks at hand, smoothly transitioning from comforting a child to immediately accessing a patient’s airway. Even calls that first appear minor may suddenly change to a critical transport.
Along with patients who are suffering from disease or illness, EMT also treat people who are injured, sometimes critically, as a result of a fall, motor vehicle crash, work place or farm accident, shooting, or assault. To stabilize, transport and treat such a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, the skilled EMT depend on their equipment and supplies to be readily available and in working order. When every moment counts during triage, an EMT cannot waste valuable time searching for bandages or a glucometer.
One piece of equipment EMT use is their ambulance. First invented in the 1400’s, ambulances have now become mobile ‘sick rooms’ filled with life-saving devices and specialized equipment. The EMT is responsible for carefully keeping the ambulance stocked, ensuring all equipment is in working order, and any supplies that were used during the shift have been replaced.
Some of the standard equipment in a basic life support ambulance includes:
Suction – portable and fixed
Oxygen – portable and fixed
Airways – nasopharyngeal (nasal trumpet) and oropharyngeal (oral) adult and child sizes
Pulse Oximeter for adults and pediatrics
Immobilization Devices – cervical collars, splints, slings
Blood pressure cuffs – infant to adult sizes
Bandages – dressings, gauze, adhesive tape
Commercial kit for Obstetrics (delivering a baby)
Thermal absorbent blankets, towels, cold packs
Protective eyewear, gloves and shoe covers
Automatic External Defibrillator (unless Advanced Life Support personnel are working, and carrying a monitor / defibrillator
Sterile dressing sheets – for burn victims
Ambulances also contain useful items that prepare the EMT for any situation. Along with a flashlight and batteries, each ambulance is stocked with heavy duty shears, also known as paramedic scissors. These scissors allow the EMT to cut through a patient’s clothing and boots, as well as seatbelts, to quickly access a patient’s injury (ies.) Each ambulance also contains proper eye and face protection, gown and shoe coverings, and gloves to protect the EMT against infectious diseases they may be exposed to.
If EMT’s have been called to the scene of a motor vehicle crash, reflective safety gear is provided in each ambulance so they can easily be viewed while working within the right of way. Protective helmets, traffic signaling devices, fire extinguishers and Hazardous material reference guides can also be found within the ambulance.
Another piece of medical equipment used daily by the EMT’s is a stretcher. EMT’s may be called to a local football game, the stairwell of a professional building, or the scene of a crime, to stabilize and transport a patient to the hospital. Stretchers, used to lift and carry patients from the location of their injury to the waiting ambulance, come in three configurations. The single person loading folds the undercarriage of the stretcher up while placing the patient in the ambulance, the one and a half loading, allowing one person to load the patient once the wheel assembly is in the ambulance, and the two person stretcher, requiring two EMT’s to place the stretcher in the ambulance.
There is an alternative to the stretcher. If a patient falls in a stairwell, for instance, EMT’s have the stair chair. Also known as a folding stretcher, this chair allows the EMT to safely remove the patient and bring them to an area where the stretcher can maneuver. If the patient cannot sit up due to a back injury, the EMT’s can use a backboard to transport the patient safely to a stretcher.
Communication in an ambulance is imperative. The EMT’s must be able to receive, and communicate with:
Dispatch – directing the EMT’s to the location of the injured or ill patient
Hospital – allowing the EMT’s to relay vital health status updates so the waiting Emergency Department staff is aware of the patient’s health status upon arrival at the hospital.
Electronic communication – allowing the hospital to receive information about the patient, such as an electrocardiograph before the patient has even arrived at the hospital.
Ambulances are equipped with mobile radios. More powerful than portable radios, they have a range of around twenty miles. Along with the mobile radios in the ambulance, Emergency Medical Technicians also utilize portable radios, or walkie-talkies. While cell phones may be more cost-effective, they do not offer secure or protected channels.
Emergency Medical Technicians are trained professionals who thrive under pressure, work well in a team, are compassionate and aim to provide patients the highest level of care during stabilization and transport to the hospital. EMT’s use a wide variety of equipment, tools and skills in their profession as the community’s trusted ‘safety net.’