20. February 2005 · Comments Off on Train Slams Ambulance, Killing Three · Categories: General

Saturday afternoon, February 19, at around 1:30 PM CST, an ambulance belonging to Pafford Emergency Medical Services, of Hope, Arkansas, was struck by a train in Hempstead County Arkansas, just outside the small town of Fulton. Three medics on the ambulance were killed, two on scene, and one dying later in a Texarkana, Texas, hospital. The patient, a 69 year-old woman who was being transported to the hospital with a possible stroke, survived after being pulled from the wreckage by her family members who were following the ambulance. The fatalaties wiped out 25% of Pafford EMS’s staff.

It is unsure just what happened, but witnesses stated that it appeared the driver thought he had time to get across before the train would get to the crossing. The Arkansas State Police are investigating the accident.

This accident hits especially close to home for me. In my 20-odd years as a paramedic, I spent a lot of those years training other EMT’s and Paramedics, and I spent a great deal of that training focusing on safety. So many new medics drive much too fast when they get behind the wheel of an ambulance, and Nurse Jenny, during her days as a Paramedic, lost a former partner to an ambulance accident – due to driving too fast. Had we not transferred out several months earlier, Jenny would likely have been in the back of that ambulance, and the very thought makes my blood run cold.

There is some validity to the idea of driving in a hurry on the way to a scene, but NEVER any reason to drive too fast for conditions, and absolutely never, ever, any reason to try beating a train to a crossing. The few seconds or even minutes, spent waiting for a train will never mean the difference between life and death for a patient, but it certainly can make the difference between life and death for an ambulance crew! The reasoning for the patient is this: If your patient is in such bad condition that a few minutes’ delay while in the ambulance will mean that they die, then that patient would probably die anyway. And dead or injured medics can help no one. More reason for driving even slower once the patient is on board is that, once the lifesaving abilities of the medics are available, and the ambulance equipment is available, the situation is, or should be, under control. Now, I’ve been on a lot of calls where it seemed that everything that could go wrong was going wrong, but, in reality, the bedlam was just imagined. We really were in control! In a controlled situation, more harm than good can come from excess speed.

Our hearts go out to the families and co-workers of the members of Pafford EMS lost in this tragic accident. We so dearly hope that other EMS units across the country will learn from this, and that medics will step back, take a deep breath, and try to get their driving habits under control. Let’s try to save lives, and let the lessons learned in Arkansas this weekend do some good in the field. If we do that, then these three medics will not have died in vain, and some sense of meaning and peace can come out of great tragedy.

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