Hey Nerds, what all is in an ambulance?
I am an American paramedic, so my perspective is decidedly American.
First, it’s useful to define an ambulance. If you are from a modern country, you probably have an image of a truck with a box on the back, with a siren and lots of lights, racing through the streets to save a life. If you are not, you may have a totally different image. So let’s start with the basics.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives the following definition:
noun \ˈam-byə-lən(t)s, -bə- also -ˌlan(t)s\
: a vehicle used for taking hurt or sick people to the hospital especially in emergencies
As you can see, there is no mention of what it carries (other than a patient!)
In many countries, an ambulance is a state of the art mobile emergency room. But it can be any means to get the patient to the hospital. Technically, even the bed of a pick up or a horse drawn cart could be classified as an ambulance if designated specifically for that purpose. The company Eranger, for example, has made a huge impact in third world countries providing motorcycle ambulances. Don’t let the lack of sophistication fool you though. Simple ambulances like Eranger’s save lives every day just by getting the patients to a hospital. Even the famed Geneva Convention details how an ambulance will be identified, but not what it carries.
What an ambulance carries depends on what its primary mission is, and what type of agency operates it. An ambulance that runs emergency calls in an inner city will be different from one that runs rescue and ambulance duty in a wilderness area. This also varies state to state and country to country. Some things, though, are common to almost every ambulance. We can these things the “ABC’s” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation).
1- Airway and Suction equipment: Since oxygen is important, having an intact airway is essential to get that air to the lungs. So most ambulances have some method to suction out vomit and keep the airway clear.
2- Breathing Support/Oxygen: Whether you are a newborn baby, or an elderly woman of 90, we all need air to breathe. And when we are put under stress medically (like during a heart attack, or if you are in shock), oxygen helps the body survive at the most basic cellular level. How we administer oxygen can differ depending on the medical situation. Regardless, all but the most basic ambulances typically carry oxygen and several ways to administer it.
3- Circulation Support: In its most simple form, circulation support is what we think of as CPR. So obviously, even basic ambulances will be set up so someone can do CPR in them. Some modern ambulances even have mechanical devices that will do CPR for the paramedic!
Another aspect of circulation support is bleeding control. Almost every ambulance will have at least simple bandages. Most US ambulances will have special military grade tourniquets to stop the most severe bleeding. Wars throughout the world have led to new medical research, including new methods of stopping life-threatening bleeding. One of these methods is “hemostatic agents.” These are powders and special bandages with chemicals that stop bleeding, no matter how hard it is to get to.
Also, all ambulances will typically have some way to move the patient. A cot, a military stretcher, something. Some will be very comfortable… others not so much.
Beyond these simple things, what an ambulance carries varies widely. Most will carry splints for broken bones, a way to protect the neck and back, and hopefully equipment to deliver a baby, though none of this is guaranteed.
One of the biggest factors is what kind of person works on the ambulance. In the US there are several different kinds of providers, with different skills. In other countries you may be attended by a doctor, a nurse, some form of paramedic, or even someone with no medical training at all! Some providers can do basic care, while others can administer life-saving drugs and do advanced procedures. As a general rule, in the US specific information can be found with the state EMS regulatory agency. In most other countries, information can be found with the Ministry of Health, the International Society of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, or the local Civil Defense.
I hope this helps. If you want something more specific, let me know where you live in the comments and I will see what I can find out.
The Paramedics Nerd
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