EMSA recruits put through the paces of ambulance driving
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2012
1/22/13 at 8:25 AM
Kadie Graves had never driven anything larger than a car.
But behind the wheel of an 8 1/2-ton ambulance Friday, she made the tight turns between orange cones and slammed the accelerator at the end, tires spinning on the wet, slick pavement.
She expected "for it to be heavy and out of control," Graves said, but "it does better than I thought it would."
Graves and about 20 other EMSA recruits got their first experience behind the wheel of the Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulance to learn how to navigate tight turns and move quickly but safely.
"All these kids are recruits," said Tony McCarty, an EMSA field operations supervisor who led Friday's training. "Some of them have never driven a truck, much less a truck this big. They learn the parameter of their skills in each vehicle."
The recruits use this opportunity on a closed obstacle course to push the ambulance and themselves, to see their limits and know what would be considered reckless, McCarty said.
The course requires quick acceleration and braking, as well as sharp, precise turns.
"By the end of the day, we have them push themselves harder and harder," McCarty said. "If we did anything less, we'd be remiss."
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians in EMSA's Eastern Division, which includes Tulsa, drove more than 2.5 million miles last year, and each vehicle logs an average of about 250 miles a day, agency spokeswoman Kelli Bruer said.
Last year, EMSA ambulances were involved in 51 crashes with another vehicle, including one injury, Bruer said. That was down from 2010, when there were 63 crashes and three injuries, she said.
After any incident, from a major collision to just damaging a tire on a curb, the driver will go through the course again and have a field training officer ride with him or her for a period, McCarty said. Every EMSA paramedic and supervisor also has to do the training every two years.
"We're taking a lot of emphasis off 'fast,' " McCarty said. "We want rapid response, but we want a safe response more."
Each ambulance is equipped with a monitor that alerts the driver if a turn is taken too quickly or if the driver accelerates or brakes too fast. That is all recorded and goes on the driver's record, McCarty said.
Drivers learn to take a defensive approach to other vehicles on the road and other hazards.
When any driver sees any emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens activated, state law requires that the driver pull to the right side of the road where there is not an intersection, stop and wait for the vehicle to pass.
But McCarty said that to be defensive, ambulance drivers should consider "using lights and sirens ... (as) a request for right of way, not a demand. That's what we teach."
Graves said she could feel the limits of the heavy ambulance and knows what she should avoid to make sure she stays in control.
"I'm ready to go again," she said after she got out of the vehicle. "If I didn't have this, I wouldn't know what to expect. It gives you a feel."
Original Print Headline: Medics on the move
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
An EMSA recruit takes an ambulance through the city's emergency vehicle obstacle course in east Tulsa on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
EMSA Lt. Morgan Peck demonstrates techniques for ambulance drivers on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Lt. Morgan Peck exits an EMSA ambulance after completing the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course in east Tulsa on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World