Ambulance Crashes: How to Prevent Paramedic Deaths

Several things must change to reduce the incidences of ambulance crash deaths

Like clockwork, stories about fatal ambulance crashes appear on this, and every other EMS news site.

Most recently, Douglas L. Odgers, a California paramedic, died when the ambulance he was riding in collided with the guardrail of the 10 Freeway. According to the news story, Odgers was riding in the back of the ambulance and was not wearing a seatbelt.

I'm saddened and cringe each time I hear when one of our own is killed in the line of duty, and I get a little angry when the death occurs under normal operating conditions.

Folks, it boils down to a few key points:

1) You can find EMS providers working in myriad circumstances. Lord knows I've been in most of them. Most of the time it involves a vehicle that is heavy, difficult to maneuver and inherently more unstable than a car.

2) Seatbelts save lives in all kinds of vehicles. I haven't seen the study yet that shows that the belts in the patient compartment work, but at this point common sense says that they would. Please, please, please use them as often as you can.

I understand that it's hard to remain restrained if you're working on a patient, but consider the times in between your interventions — you're probably just talking with the patient, or documenting, or otherwise doing something that doesn't require you moving around the compartment. In that case, buckle up!

3) Vehicle manufacturers, please make it easier to buckle up. I know you have been working toward that end, but we really need your help to eliminate excuses to not restrain ourselves in the patient compartment.

In addition, keep working on providing spaces and surfaces that are easy to access, yet can secure items in a crash.

4) Employers, is it worth any cost savings in salaries if the chance for driver fatigue is high?

I'd like to find the study that shows that it's not the number of calls we run in a shift that's harmful, it's the fact that we are at work and in a constant state of readiness that makes us tired.

I understand that the majority of serious mistakes occur on the back half of a shift. I don't know what's going on here, but this might be just such a case.

In the end, this is a tragic story, which runs just a few lines in a local paper. My heart and condolences go out the surviving family and to the EMT who survived the crash, along with their friends and coworkers.

Unfortunately these episodes will continue until we change the environment and our mindsets.


About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

  1. Tags
  2. Safety

Join the discussion

Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the EMS1 Member Newsletter!

logo for print