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How Ambulances Work

How Ambulances Are Equipped

paramedic, ambulance equipment
A paramedic poses in front of his ambulance with its equipment. vm/Getty Images

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Ambulances come in a variety of vehicle types and configurations, according to Dr. Ben Weston, M.D., an assistant professor of EMS medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin, who also works as a medical director for two local government EMS services. There's the familiar minivan style, but other ambulances have a pickup-truck chassis with an attached patient compartment.

Inside, ambulances carry an assortment of lifesaving equipment. BLS ambulances carry portable oxygen supplies and masks, cervical collars, slings, backboards to protect patients with spinal injuries, and kits with towels, dressings, scissors, clamps and sterile gloves to use in delivering babies. Among other equipment, they're also equipped with disinfectant, shoe covers, coveralls and other gear for controlling exposure to infections [source Facs.org].

At the ALS level, vehicles have more sophisticated devices, including intubation equipment and gear to treat patients with pneumothorax, or collapsed lung. They also often have the tools to take blood samples and perform simple lab tests, which can be transmitted directly to the hospital while in route.

One of the most important — and costly — pieces of equipment on an ALS ambulance is the heart monitor. "It's one of the essentials," Buchle says. The devices that Life Lion EMS uses are capable of doing an electrocardiogram (EKG), and also transmitting the readings via wireless modem to a doctor at the hospital while they are in route. Additionally, the device can check oxygen levels and blood pressure, and even act as a pacemaker for patients whose hearts need such assistance.

Ambulances also carry supplies of medications, with state regulations determining what they're allowed to have. ALS ambulances can carry an extensive assortment of drugs, from various cardiac medications and drugs to treat patients who've suffered allergic reactions or asthma attacks. There also are various pain medications, ranging from aspirin to fentanyl [source: Buchle].

Another useful piece of equipment on ambulances these days is a laptop computer, which crews can use to receive detailed information from the 911 dispatcher. That enables them to be better prepared when they arrive on the scene.

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