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6 lifesaving seat belt tips for EMTs and paramedics

Try these tips to make seat belt use in the patient care compartment just as normal as your personal vehicle

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Always wear a seat belt when the ambulance is moving.

Photo/Greg Friese

I am sure your department has a seat belt use policy. Yet, I observe few EMS professionals wearing a seat belt in the patient care compartment of the ambulance. When asked, I encounter responses that range from indifference to hostility when suggesting we should always wear our seat belts in a moving ambulance. In some organizations not wearing a seat belt was part of the culture.

In a July 2019 EMS1 reader poll only 4% of respondents said “Always” to the question, “How often do you wear a seatbelt in the patient care compartment?” A worrisome 29% of respondents said “Never.”

Common complaints are that wearing a seat belt might compromise patient care by not being able to perform tasks like reaching for equipment, using a bag-valve mask, talking on the radio or compressing the patient’s chest.

These are six tips for wearing a seat belt in the patient care compartment as much as possible.

1. Commit

Start by making a personal commitment to use a seat belt on every patient response and transport.

2. Assess and treat on scene

Maximize assessment and interventions performed before transport starts based on patient condition and protocol. Initiating transport for a patient in cardiac arrest should be exceptionally rare. Follow your local protocols, which in many places now direct at least a 20-minute on-scene resuscitation attempt.

3. Optimize patient care compartment

Organize your workspace so the tools and equipment you will most likely need for IV access, oxygen and medication administration, vital sign monitoring and airway management are within reach during transport.

4. Hospital report

Use a smartphone or handheld radio to call in the hospital report, if allowed, so you can talk from any seat belted position.

5. Likely supplies at your side

For additional supplies needed during the transport, I like to keep the first-in bag belted to the seat next to me. I use supplies from there and replenish the bag from the cabinets after the call.

6. Only leave your seat when the vehicle is stopped

If you must leave your seat, try to wait until the vehicle comes to a halt at a stop sign or red light. Tell the driver you are moving and then tell the driver when you are safely restrained in a new seat.

Finally, if your service routinely transports pulseless patients, it is well past time to have a thoughtful conversation with your medical director and service director about the efficacy of manual chest compressions in an ambulance relative to the risk to you and your colleagues.

Share your tips for maximizing seat belt use in the patient care compartment.

This article, originally published November 24, 2009, has been updated.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.