Eight More Tips on Ambulance Wrangling

Our apologies for the lack of updates while we battle technical difficulties here at EMSB HQ. Here’s a few quick tips to tide you over until the next meaty helping of knowledge.

Still learning your way around that temperamental home-away-from-home we call the ambulance? Try these ideas for making life easier. As always, they apply foremost to the Ford diesel chassis, but may work elsewhere as well.

  1. If your stretcher mount is misadjusted, you may have trouble getting the side-rail to “release” and lock home when you insert the stretcher. Whether it’s too tight or too loose, try the following maneuvers, in this order: pull back (toward you); stand on the step and lift it directly up; sit on the leftmost side of the bench seat, place your feet on the lower deck of the stretcher base (this is the rail upon which the wheels are mounted, not the upper rail that holds the mattress), and use your legs to firmly press it into the side bracket. Do not, except in utter extremis, solve this problem by “slamming” the stretcher against the wall.
  2. If your backboards don’t fit their slot snugly, they tend to bang around at every turn. Try folding a large towel or two into a thin strip (6″–12″), rolling it tightly so that it forms the thickest possible pad, then stuffing it into the void so that everything’s held snug. (You can stuff anything in there, but you need something pretty substantial and the rolled towel seems to work best.)
  3. If you have a module power switch in the cab, but no remote switch for the patient compartment heat/AC, get in the habit of leaving the thermostat switched on in the back, blasting whatever air is appropriate for the weather. Then to save the battery, kill the module power whenever you shut off the engine. That way, you can pre-heat or cool the passenger compartment while on your way to a call by just throwing the switch up front.
  4. If you’re not feeling up to shutting your door to the cab, you can usually get it to close by shoving it outward hard and letting it “bounce” off the hinge and recoil shut. In fact, you may be able to bounce the passenger-side door closed (if you’re at the wheel and an absent-minded partner leaves it open) by tapping the gas and then hitting the brake. A caveat: I have yet to hear the opinion of fleet maintenance on this practice.
  5. If it’s a truly scorching day, park in the deepest shade you can find, set the high idle (usually by locking the parking break), and prop open the hood to help ventilate. (The hood will often stay open without use of the support rod if you lift it all the way up and rest it against the windshield.) Remember that “Max A/C” recirculates the interior air, making it increasingly cold, while “Norm A/C” will continuously introduce fresh air.
  6. From the “off” position, turn the ignition key backward (towards you) rather than forward to activate the “accessories” mode. This activates the FM radio, windows, etc. but will automatically shut off power before your battery runs dangerously low; that way you can sit there with power without running the engine. However, test this to see if your two-way radios will remain on in this mode; I’ve seen it work both ways.
  7. Look around the passenger compartment, particularly on the rear doors. Are there any speakers visible? If so, you can probably pipe music back here from the FM radio in the cab, a great way to keep patients entertained if they’re game. Just like in your car, the radio should have settings to adjust the balance, which controls how much volume comes through the left vs. the right speakers, and the fade, which controls how much volume comes through the front vs. the rear speakers. Normally, it will be faded all the way forward; just adjust it into the middle to pump your jam through the speakers in both compartments. Try asking what genre they prefer, and for bonus points, plug in your iPod for a fully DJ-able experience. Just remember to fade everything forward again at the end of the call, or you’ll inadvertently subject all your future patients to your Taylor Swift Experience.
  8. Run your seatbelt adjuster (there should be a slider where it attaches to the wall) all the way up to the top, keep it buckled, and the belt will make a pretty decent pillow for your cheek.
Anyone else have some good ones to share?


  1. If your agency is unable to afford (read: too cheap to buy) a good cardiac monitor securing device for occupant safety and preservation of $25K cardiac monitors, you can seatbelt it to the bench facing the attendant, rather than leave it unsecured on the monitor shelf (imagine the weight of that monitor flying at you or your patient during a brake check!). You can get the old gurney seatbelts or backboard seatbelts and use some heavy screws to affix them to that monitor shelf too. Then your monitor can be attached via those seatbelts to the shelf for a much cheaper price than a custom fit securing device.

  2. Great post! During nasty winter storms, I will tape a shop towel (or three) to the floor of the patient care compartment with 2-inch medical tape. This acts as a Welcome mat of sorts in the step well so that you don’t track all the slush into the main area.

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