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Insights on Innovation
by Dan White

What EMS owes to the mortuary industry

The first ambulances were modifications of funeral car designs of the time

I was recently asked by a reader what the EMS industry got from the mortuary industry. He gave the example of the original aluminum scoop stretcher coming from the mortuary side of Ferno's business. While I can't personally verify if that is true, I sure would not be surprised.

In the good (?) old days, in huge parts of the country, the only ambulance service available was from the mortuaries. If you needed to take somebody to the hospital too sick to sit up you had two choices; it was the bed of a pickup in the rain or a hearse with a roof.

Roof won in the market. It goes way beyond just scoop stretchers. EMS borrowed most of their core handling equipment from the mortuary service. From the one-man, H-frame style cot, to mounting systems and transfer devices to heavens knows what else.

The first ambulances were modifications of funeral car designs of the time. I myself recently "borrowed" from the mortuary industry. I took one of those black hard rubber embalmers head rests, and had my mechanic wire-tie it to an intubation head. Now I have an ALS airway simulator that fits in a bowling ball bag and works on nearly any surface. They are rugged too.

What makes it more cool is that I bought them from an ex-paramedic who now runs a mortuary supply business. The very best driver I ever rode with around 1979, started back in the mortuary days, like back in 1959. He only barely tolerated paramedics.

More than once he was heard muttering about strutting little peacocks with fancy belt holsters. "You don't know enough about dealing with people and nothing about driving." Looking back well over 30 years later, his words now ring true. If I knew any jouncing around might hurt or paralyze, I would say "Please, can we get to the trauma center, but not feel a thing?"

I would get in the back of the caddy, tend to this and then look up and we were already pulling into the hospital. I never felt anything in the back. But the best call I remember with him was when a helicopter thought we should have called them, so they "jumped" the call.

We were packed up with the badly bleeding patient and almost ready to go in under a minute. It was a fast call because the deputy already had him right up by the side of the road. He was holding simple, effective, direct pressure on the impressive leg wound. He probably saved the kids life and I told him so.

Then I asked my old-school EMT driver, "Please, can we get to the hospital faster than that helicopter?" I pointed up at the helicopter descending on final approach. He smiled the biggest smile (and maybe the only smile) I ever saw on his face and answered, "You ready now?"We did the nine miles in seven-and-a-half minutes, in city traffic. It was like flying.

The helicopter team wanted to prove that they were faster, so they raced us to the hospital. Unfortunately by the time they powered down and got out, we were already there. The guy drove over 20 years and never lost his temper or got in an accident. Respect. We owe the mortuary industry a lot. At least I do.

About the author

Dan White, EMT-P works for Intersurgical, Inc. as the National Account Manager for EMS. Immediately prior he ran Arasan, LLC. He served as Sales & Marketing Director for Truphatek, Inc. and before that Director of Corporate Planning & Product Development for AllMed. He has been certified as a paramedic since 1978 and an EMS and ACLS instructor since 1981. Dan has designed many emergency medical products since his first, the White Pulmonary Resuscitator, including the Prolite Speedboad, Cook Needle Decompression Kit and RapTag Triage System. His more recent EMS product designs are the Arasan Ultra EMS Coat and the B2 Paramedic Helmet. To contact Dan, email dan.white@ems1.com.

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