EMS Chronicles: Decoding EMS

It’s comical to hear the trivial myths from society regarding ambulances. I suppose we live in a world where we must create a logic to explain things we don’t understand.

I think the best logic I heard recently was, “when an ambulance shuts off their sirens, the patient inside has died”. Yup, someone actually said this and yes, it made me laugh out loud.

It was at that point I thought maybe it was worth writing the truth behind some common ambulance myths.

    The lights and sirens
  • We are driven by protocols that differ based on the county in which we operate. The protocols help determine how we treat each condition, what we are to do in certain situations, and how we prioritize calls. The agency I work for dispatches calls as med 1, 2, or 3. A med 1 call warrants us to respond with lights and sirens. However, just because we respond to a call with lights and sirens does not mean we will transport from the call with lights and sirens. Once the patient is assessed on scene, we create a priority based on their acuity.
  • For example, if a call is dispatched as a med 1 for difficulty breathing, we respond with lights and sirens. Once we arrive, if the patient is experiencing difficulty breathing caused by factors we can control and treat we will most likely not be using lights and sirens during transport.
    • When the lights and sirens turn off

    You’ve seen the memes by now. They joke about us using our lights and sirens to get past you and then turning them off. Although it is absolutely that awkward when we have to do it and then see you at a stop light, it’s not why we do it. Sometimes, we get dispatched to a med one and then we are disregarded. Reasons for this include a closer truck becomes available, caller called back and cancelled us, or someone on scene has downgraded us after assessing the patient prior to our arrival. Whatever the case, I promise we aren’t being assholes.

    • Seeing an ambulance sitting in a parking lot
  • I’m sure at least once you’ve seen an ambulance sitting in a parking lot of a store, gas station, or restaurant with the crew inside eating or doing “nothing”. This is called posting. Each agency has a coverage area and all trucks must be “posted” within a certain distance of others to ensure someone can respond in a certain time frame to a call in our area. If a truck gets a call, all other trucks “posted” will shift to another post. And if we do appear to be eating or doing nothing, just know this is our idea of a “break” because we don’t get one otherwise. We eat on the go, hydrate on the go, and bathroom breaks are rare. Our bladders are champs!
    • Only seeing one crew member when we pass
  • If you pass us on the road and only see the driver, we are not alone! This indicates our other crew member is tending to a patient in the back. Even if lights and sirens are not going (per reasons above) they are with a patient. The other crew member is transporting to the destination.
    • Speeding with no lights and sirens
  • Yes we are, by law, allowed to speed even when our lights and sirens are not on. We are to “move with a sense of urgency” when responding to or from a call. We have protocols indicating how fast we can go depending on the road type. No, we are not doing “what we want because we drive an ambulance”.
    • Ambulance drivers
  • Please, for the love of god, stop calling us ambulance drivers! Both EMTs and paramedics can tend to patients depending on the level of a call. Whoever is not attending will drive. If you must call us something of this nature, at least make it fun, like “boo boo bus driver”. At least it’s comical.
  • I’m positive there are more myths to bust! If you have questions or any others I can help with, please let me know! And as always, thanks for reading.

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