Case study: How a group of Pittsburgh firefighters got a better handle on patient lifting
Binder Lift lets rescuers move more weight with fewer people.
By Mike Rubin for EMS1
When Pittsburgh firefighter Chad Hirosky got the call for a lift assist, he recognized the address as a common destination for his engine company.
“That patient is a 300-pound man who’s bedridden,” said the 46-year-old lieutenant. “Sometimes he slides out of bed and falls to the floor. When we get there, he just wants to be helped back up. It used to take four of us to do that with a modified belt we’d make out of something in the house.”
That was before Hirosky and his crew had a Binder Lift. The foam-cushioned vest, in standard and bariatric sizes, secures easily around patients’ torsos with three heavy-duty, quick-release buckles and removable upper-leg straps. Up to 25 vertical and horizontal handles on the vest spread grasp points over a larger area than just arms and legs. That means it can increase the number of rescuers who can safely share the load.
“Now we only need two or three guys to get him secured, pick him up and put him back to bed,” said Hirosky, who’s also a registered nurse. “I don’t usually endorse products so strongly, but this device is just perfect for what we need.”
The Challenge: The hazards of lifting
With so many reports of violence against firefighters and EMS providers worldwide, it’s easy to lose sight of how dangerous routine lifting is for your average responder. A 2017 study of EMS-related injuries over a four-year period showed 28 percent of those treated at hospitals – approximately 24,600 EMTs and paramedics – had suffered body-motion trauma secondary to “excessive physical effort, awkward posture or repetitive movement.” Most were hurt while lifting or carrying patients, almost half of whom were overweight.
Many in EMS endure that chronic discomfort while continuing to work in the field, but nearly 25 percent suffer career-ending back injuries within their first four years on the job.
According to Fit Responder founder and former paramedic Bryan Fass, lifting below the knees is a common, but dangerous practice for prehospital providers. In his article on how to safely lift patients, he recommends using tools that elevate lift points from floor to knee level, using handles for lateral transfers, working together and slowing down.
That’s good news for responders like Hirosky, whose crews deal with lift-assist spillover whenever EMS gets swamped.
“More and more of my guys were complaining of aches and pains,” he said. “A couple went on disability. We’re beginning to realize we’re not 30 anymore.”
The Solution: Binder Lift gives Pittsburgh a lift
Last year, Hirosky started looking for better equipment. “I sort of stumbled on Binder Lift,” the veteran firefighter recalled. “There’s not a lot out there for ambulation assists – picking people up and helping them stand on their own legs.”
Hirosky got approval to evaluate Binder Lift on the streets. “Nothing really compared,” he said. “Binder was the only device with so many lifting points to support the torso, plus leg straps. For me, those were the deciding factors.”
Now there’s a Binder Lift on every Metropolitan Pittsburgh fire truck.
“We use it in some pretty tight situations, even when someone’s twisted up in the shower,” Hirosky said. “Instead of blowing out our backs with traditional lifting, we get that extra leverage.”
Lifting and moving a patient is a dynamic task that requires the proper posture, body mechanics, methods and tools. Now Hirosky and his team can use lifting devices like the Binder Lift to safely and proficiently move patients without running the risk of serious injuries.
About the author
Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville, Tennessee. A former faculty member at Stony Brook University, Mike has logged 24 years in EMS after 18 in the corporate world as an engineer, manager and consultant. He created the EMS version of Trivial Pursuit and produced Down Time, a collection of rescue-oriented rock and pop tunes. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.