Crash tests to shape ambulances of future

With the 2015 retirement of the KKK specifications, companies are using safety crash tests and ergonomic studies to develop new standards and designs

WASHINGTON — From Wisconsin to Virginia, experts are loading dummies into ambulances, and driving them into walls.

For the first time, the same safety methods that are a staple for passenger vehicles are being applied to EMS, and the data collected from crash tests will greatly shape new ambulance standards when the federal KKK specifications are retired in 2015.

"This is probably the best and most real science we've had in our industry," said Mark Van Arnam, president of American Emergency Vehicles. "Ever." Van Arnam was one of the presenters at EMS Today's seminar "National Ambulance Standards: What's Ahead"

The work being done by the National Association of State EMS Officials includes extensive research to develop new standards that include body integrity, litter design, lighting, rigid cot restraint, equipment mounting and more.

One study explored arm, leg and head movement in an accident to determine how far away to place equipment so it won't become a hazard.

New territiory

Researchers are also studying EMS workers themselves. They're determining the sizes, shapes and movements of EMTs and medics, and using computer modeling to see how bodies relate to ambulance design.

"This is brand-new territory these guys are plowing," Arnam said.

Future ambulance designs will also consider ergonomics and functionality for workers.

Ron Thackery, senior vice president of professional services and integration at American Medical Response, showed a photo of a particularly messy rig that included repurposing a seatbelt to attach a trash can to the wall. This, he said, demonstrates need.

"Here's a crew that said 'here are all the things I need around me as I care for a patient. Find a place for me to put them,'" he said

The new standards will aim to do just that. Minimal cabinet space, for instance, is on the horizon. Instead of storing supplies behind closed doors, they'll be rolled up in a soft bag that attaches and locks to the wall, ensuring materials are restrained but also making sure they're accessible.

Medic safety

A lot of work is also going into seatbelts — and why EMTs and medics in the back of the ambulance tend to not use them. Seventy-five percent of industry deaths in ambulance collisions occur when EMTs and medics don't use the restraint, Thackery said.

"How do we convince people to buckle up?" he asked.

The future of ambulance design also extends beyond standards, and will start to incorporate some of the latest safety technology.

Mercedes-Benz, for instance, uses Collision Prevention Assist, where sensors measure the space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If that space shortens, but you continue at the same speed, it will automatically apply the brakes. This feature is making its way into the rescue industry, and is available on the 2014 Sprinter.

Conceptual designs of new ambulances will be based on incorporating new technology and the new standards developed through research. When it comes time to applying them, EMS agencies will have to make a decision as to what they choose to adhere to.

"Certainly," Thackery said, "at the end of the day it's up to the states."

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