By: Kevin Lee, Training Officer, 2013-2014
For the EMT, cold weather sucks. There is nothing good about freezing temperatures. The equipment stops working because the batteries freeze, your ambulance does not start because the engine is frozen and even if you do get it starting again, ambulances are rear-wheeled drive with a huge top, disproportionate weight and have light truck tires that are too small to put chains on. So imagine how ambulance drivers feel when they have to respond to high priority patients in the snow. To make matters worse you have to carry three or more huge bags of equipment and something to carry the patient on, all potentially in a snowstorm. The result is a very unhappy, cold and wet patient being loaded on an ambulance with a slushy, slippery, wet and disgusting floor that you will have to clean out again after your call.
Thankfully here at VCEMS we do not have an ambulance to take care of. Unfortunately, we still have our own problems that we need to deal with when responding to calls in cold weather. The lack of an ambulance means we have to walk at the time of day when the weather is the coldest. Therefore it is extremely important that you take the time to bundle up before responding. Layers, gloves, hats, scarfs, earmuffs and more layers should be a requirement and boots are a strong encouragement. If you see the EMS truck heading your way, start waving your arms frantically and jump up and down in order to get the driver’s attention. The best way to travel to a call during the winter is in the comfort of heated seats. Remember to walk briskly and know where you are going before leaving the building. Watch out for bright spots on the pavement because chances are it is ice and falling while responding is never a pleasant sight nor experience. These tips will help you shave precious seconds from your time being exposed to the cold and minimize your chances of arriving to the scene with completely frozen and numb fingers.
If you can picture an intoxicated individual walking down a dry surface and compare that scene with the same person walking down an icy surface, you can very accurately predict what the change in surface will do to the results. While you may think that you only need to take care of the trauma and intoxication, you actually first need to take care of something different that is exclusive to the weather: hypothermia. Stationary, injured patients will use more energy than healthy individuals, while the body uses more energy in the cold in order to maintain temperature. So an injured patient that cannot move in the cold will use a significant amount of energy in order for the body to maintain itself. Therefore, after stabilizing your patient, your first order of business is to get the patient inside, otherwise, you will be fighting a losing battle with hypothermia. Remember that there are a number of devices in the EMS truck that are designed to safely transport patients from place to place, so do not be afraid to use them. Once you get a patient inside, use passive warming techniques such as layers and sitting next to a heater to warm up your patient.
Despite your personal opinion on the beauty of winter, EMTs despise winter because it slows down operations and does a number on your patients. But fighting Mother Nature never seems to work so we end up adapting to the conditions presented to us. Dress correctly, work smart, pay attention and hopefully you will survive the season nice and cozy.