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Ambulance chassis shortage brings back horse-drawn buggy

The wicked-cool apparatus has cut response times in half; engineers eye prehistoric models

As EMS prepares for the looming ambulance chassis shortage of 2014, some agencies have turned to the past for answers.

Cities across the nation have partnered with area museums to put horse-drawn displays back into service, retrofitting modern shock absorbers on buggies for patient comfort.

“We really have no idea how long this shortage will last, and are simply fed up with a reliance on modern technology,” said a U.S. Emergency Medical Director Shirley Ujest.

Predictably, the apparatus has taken off in New England cities like Boston that were built with this concept in mind.

"I mean, everyone knows the streets were designed for horses and buggies anyway," said EMS Chief Blithy Wulger. “With this wicked cool new apparatus, and our department-issued compass, we’ve been able to navigate more direct routes down previously unknown alleyways."

Response time has been cut in half during the three-month trial, and the mode of transportation has led to a dramatic decrease in ambulance-involved collisions.

"Boston drivers get a bad rap, but they’re not stupid," Wulger said. "When you see five horses galloping toward you, you give them the right of way regardless of the color of the light. Of course we can only run BLS, but as fast as we're getting on scene and to the hospital, no one seems to mind."

Not all cities have embraced the valiant steed-driven method for medical emergencies. Engineers in San Francisco are exploring a new model built mostly from stone. The ambulance concept has a hole in the center for human-powered propulsion and stopping.

"In beta testing we've seen a troublesome rise in EMT foot and ankle injuries," said San Francisco lead engineer Rocky Shale. "On the upside, it ensures daily exercise; the constant braking and acceleration on hills really strengthens medics' quads and overall fitness levels."

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