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Sedgwick County’s new ambulances reflect visibility concerns

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, at 8:51 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at 6:28 a.m.

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During a rainstorm in the middle of night on April 23, a Sedgwick County ambulance crew was working an accident on West Kellogg.

The crew was as far over as possible on the eastbound shoulder near an exit ramp. A car suddenly plowed into two paramedics and sent the patient flying off the stretcher.

One paramedic sustained serious injuries and the other minor injuries. The patient emerged “surprisingly OK,” said Paul Misasi, deployment and quality-improvement manager for the county’s Emergency Medical Services.

It was a rare incident involving a county EMS crew, but “one is too many,” Misasi said.

Earlier this month, the EMS took delivery of three new ambulances with special reflective strips on the sides and back, which significantly increase visibility. Two current ambulances also will have the new striping after they have been retrofitted in March.

By the end of 2017, the county hopes all 27 ambulances in its fleet will have the new striping scheme, said Paul Gibson, logistics manager for the county’s EMS.

Whether the new safety features would have prevented the April accident is hard to say, Misasi said.

“We’ll never know,” he said, “but we have to keep looking for ways to improve safety for our crews and the patients.”

The new striping gives a better outline of the ambulances from the back and the sides, especially at night, Misasi said.

Blue and red strips on the sides are directional, pointing toward the front of the ambulance. There are large blue and yellow stripes on the back, where existing ambulances have only a continuation of red and blue stripes from the sides.

“The back will stand out more in the day and night,” Misasi said. “That should grab a driver’s attention and let them know this is an ambulance.”

It takes more than the red lights and sirens to alert drivers.

“When people can kind of see the outline of the vehicle,” Misasi said, “they have better information about what’s going on rather than just have flashing lights. They can start to understand what’s ahead.

“It helps people to anticipate movements and make better judgments.”

The new striping wasn’t driven by April’s accident. The county was already moving in that direction after the National Fire Protection Agency, an industry lobbying group, made the new striping part of a draft of its recommendations earlier this year.

“We aren’t required to do it,” Gibson said, “but we like to follow them as closely as possible.”

Kansas and other states will likely adopt the recommendations, Misasi said.

The three new ambulances cost $167,000 each and the retrofitted ones are $105,000 each, Gibson said.

During the lifespan of an ambulance, it gets a new chassis and engine once. Because ambulances spend a lot of time idling, an ambulance life isn’t based just on miles driven, Gibson said.

After being driven about 130,000 miles, an ambulance will have sat idling 9,000 to 10,000 hours – which equals another 300,000 miles, he added.

That’s when everything but the box on back is replaced, Gibson said.

By the time an ambulance is remounted once and adds another 130,000 miles, it has been around about eight years, he added.

“By that time, you’re behind in technology and need to replace the ambulance,” Gibson said. “You can’t keep it.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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