Andrew Bauer, an EMT at Syracuse University Ambulance, will be the first to tell you that there is no such thing as a typical night shift at SUA. Little did I know, I was about to find out for myself.
The night started out like any other, I met Bauer at SUA’s headquarters located in the Health Services building at Syracuse University at around 10PM. The night shift runs until about 8AM the next morning so I knew we were in for a long night.
Typically, the weekend overnights have the most calls, so I was expecting at least a little action. Being part of a university, SUA responds to a high number of alcohol intoxication calls, which occur most often on the weekend nights.
The first thing that Bauer, his partner for the night, and a new member in training did was what is called a rig check. Before each shift, those on duty check everything on the rig (ambulance) from the inside out. Nothing is left unchecked including lights, sirens, medical equipment, stretcher functionality and even engine oil levels.
The check took about 45-minutes, and was extremely thorough.
Shortly after the rig check was done, it was time to hang out, watch TV, and wait for any calls.
The students who volunteer at SUA say they often spend time at quarters whether they are on or off duty. There is a clear team dynamic – everyone helping each other do their jobs well.
The first couple hours of the shift included a lot of hanging out and eating, of course. During the downtime Bauer outlined a lot of the technology that SUA relies on each day. After all, I was there to explore the technology as much as the experience.
The main pieces of technology that SUA uses are:
- Stryker Power Stretchers
- ProQA and CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) systems
- Toughbook Laptops
- Patient Management Software
- Radio Communications
- On-rig computers to control ambulance functions
As the night went on, I slowly got a glimpse into these technologies in action.
Before the First Call
Before we got any calls for the night, Bauer, his partner, and the new member in training go out to fill up the rig with gas, and then do some driver training. Bauer is a driving FTO (Field Training Officer) which means he can teach others to drive. He is also qualified to teach other members how to teach new members to drive (I know, kind of confusing).
Almost immediately after getting to the empty lot for driver training, a call comes in. Time to drop everything and respond.
How it All Works
First, the call comes in to dispatch and whoever is on duty uses ProQA, which helps the dispatcher ask the caller the right questions. Patient information is inputted into the CAD system, and then the ambulance on duty is radioed if they are away from quarters, or notified via a bell if they are at SUA.
This call is for a priority-2 response. That means that the ambulance on duty, which on that night was “A2,” will be responding to the address of the caller with lights and sirens. There are 3 levels of call priority. Both priority-1 and 2 calls mean the situation is severe enough that the ambulance should respond as soon as possible with lights and sirens on. A priority-3 response indicates a non-immediately life-threatening call, in which the ambulance responds like a normal vehicle following all of the rules and regulations of the road.
While responding, a comprehensive visual computer systems helps the driver control all emergency lights, sirens, and even a PA system.
Once on scene, the ambulance again communicates with dispatch via radio. Radios on each rig allow SUA to keep in contact with dispatch, local hospitals, and the city ambulances.
The first main piece of technology that I saw being used on scene is the power stretcher. In the past, users would have to lift the entire weight of a patient to get them into the ambulance. The new power stretchers that SUA uses are able to lift the patient with the push of a button. Rechargeable batteries make sure the stretchers are always functioning.
Often times, Rural/Metro, the city ambulance service will respond to calls along with SUA. This is because SUA, while able to handle many calls on their own, are not an “Advanced Life Support” unit. Rural/Metro is.
On this call, Rural/Metro responds with SUA, but their paramedic rides in SUA’s rig until the patient is released to the receiving hospital.
After the Call
So far, I had seen most of the technology at work. The one main piece of technology left on the list were the Panasonic Toughbooks. After a call, the responding EMT needs to fill out a call report.
Software installed on the rugged touchscreen laptops allow SUA to enter vital patient and call information. Options for patient descriptions and symptoms, as well as treatment and care, make the process of reporting each call much easier.
The Rest of the Shift
Through just one call, I already saw how important technology is to SUA’s EMS operation. From call, to dispatch, to response, to care, technology helped along the way.
The night, though, was not over yet, one more call for a multi-patient car accident. Again a priority-2 response, and the same level of professionalism from the qualified student EMS organization.
Both calls that night took about 30-40 minutes from the time the call came in, to after the ambulance returned from the call. Bauer told me this night was lighter than some and busier than others. On any given night you can have 0 calls, or as much as 20-30 calls on a popular night like Halloween.
What do you think of the technology used by SUA? Share your thoughts below in the comments section, or tweet me @JaredMandel.