Thoughts of concern and safety for the medics after stretcher tips

Mistakes are almost always the result of faulty processes, designs, or environmental conditions


When I watched this video of a stretcher tipping over my heart sank. What a terrible situation for the crew. An emergency scene, especially in the glare of police lights and in front of a crowd of bystanders, offers up endless opportunities for mishaps and calamity. Then add on the reality that every EMS movement is being recorded for near instantaneous sharing on the internet.

What was your first thought? Was it empathy and concern for your colleagues? Or something different?

When I first watched the video I felt the flood of embarrassment and fear that happens in a moment like that.

Of course I also felt concern for the patient. Was he OK? Did the drop cause additional injuries? Not long ago a patient died after being dropped from a stretcher. 

Right after the drop, the off-camera crowd gasps and begins shouting. One man runs into the frame towards the medics. The relative safety of this scene changes suddenly and could have quickly become violent for the EMS providers, the police officers and other bystanders.

Next a police officer rushes into view, positioning himself between the man and the crew. What do you think he said to de-escalate the situation? His positioning, with two hands up, created a barrier and likely sent a clear signal to other onlookers to let the crew recover and do their job.

I have watched the video more than a dozen times. What can we take away from the actual lift and raise of the stretcher to improve our patient care and teaching of other providers?

It looks like there are two people at the patient’s head and one rescuer lifting from the patient’s feet. I have been in this situation many times. A student or well-meaning police officer or firefighter joins on one end of the cot - an extra set of hands - to help with the lift. The imbalance of lifting energy, experience, and size always leads to awkward stretcher raises and even caused me a few near misses.

Finally, an “investigation” is promised. When your organization experiences an event like this does “investigation” actually mean termination? Or does investigation lead to changes in training, procedures, and purchasing? Remember, most mistakes are the result of faulty processes, designs, or environmental conditions. Until proven otherwise I am going to believe and emphatize that these are good people caught in a bad situation.

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