Speed bumps aimed at slowing drivers in neighborhoods could be putting ambulance patients at risk, some EMS officials say.
The city of Columbia last year approved requests from neighborhood associations to install 30 speed bumps in residential areas around the city, according to city’s Traffic Engineering Department.
Councilman Cameron Runyan, who serves on council’s Public Safety Committee, said speed bumps came on his radar after the death of a pedestrian outside of First Presbyterian Church downtown a couple of years ago. He said council now will seek approval from local emergency officials, especially the fire department, before approving any installation.
“What’s germane here is the speed bumps are designed to increase public safety,” Runyan said. “Hopefully it will result in less paramedic calls.”
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It’s difficult to find statewide numbers on how speed bumps affect ambulance patient care. Runyan said there has not been any study conducted of Columbia emergency team response times since he was elected as a councilman, nearly four years ago.
But, Russ Cobb, a 25-year EMS veteran and chief executive officer of Lifeline Ambulance in Lugoff, said speed bumps can affect paramedics and patients in an ambulance.
“If you’re trying to secure someone’s airway you might miss that airway,” Cobb said. Missing the airway means instead of getting a breathing tube into the patient’s lungs, it could go into the esophagus, putting the patient’s life in danger.
“If you can’t provide oxygen to the lungs, it’s obvious that death is going to occur,” Cobb said.
Cobb said speed bumps can become a bigger problem when trying to stabilize a patient suffering from a severe ailment, such as an acute aortic aneurism, which affects one of the main arteries that takes blood from the heart.
“You have to keep that patient as still as possible, because if that artery is jarred it will rupture and they will bleed out in a minute or two,” Cobb said.
But Thomas Blackwell, an assistant dean at the University of South Carolina Greenville School of Medicine who specializes in emergency response services, said if patients are suffering such a traumatic health problem, “they should have been in surgery yesterday.”
While Blackwell agrees there is a small set of patients whose transportation times can be affected by speed bumps, times of administering patient care should not be affected.
“Does a few seconds going over a speed bump deter that? I don’t think so,” said Blackwell. “Time is critical, and you want to get them to the hospital as quickly as possible. There are some injuries that are time dependent, but the seconds going over a speed bump does not affect patient care.”
But communication is key when transporting a patient, he said.
“The driver needs to communicate with the paramedics in the back and say, ‘Hey, speed bump coming up, hang on,’” Blackwell said. “If they do their job the way they are supposed to do their job, there should be no detriment to patient care.”
But, sometimes ambulances and emergency response teams can’t anticipate a speed bump when they already are focusing on patient tasks, said Lee Turner, who spent three years as an EMT in Pickens County.
While the team is communicating while transporting a patient, Lee said technicians also are focusing on clearing intersections, calling hospitals and calling dispatch centers.
Going over a speed bump in an ambulance is like having an emergency room in a hospital jumping around, Turner added.
“I think a lot of times speed bumps are put there prematurely,” Turner said. “Brand new subdivisions are putting them every 20 yards or so, but they don’t realize how much it slows down emergency services and patient care.”
Dennis Ray, fire chief of Lugoff Fire-Rescue, said although neighborhoods in his area do not have speed bumps, he will contest the idea of installing them if the idea is brought up to council.
The negative aspects of speed bumps often outweigh the positive outcomes that people think they are getting from them, Ray said.
“You can take the fact that it’s going to slow certain vehicles down, but you give up the fact that it’s slowing emergency vehicles down also,” Ray said.
While Ray and Blackwell agree that accidents can be avoided by EMTs holding off on administering drugs to patients, Ray said sometimes it’s not up to the EMT as to how much time the patient can go without having medicine and immediate stabilization.
“Everybody can say they need to slow down and administer medicine in the yard and slow down over the speed bumps,” Ray said. “But when it’s you or your family, you want to have that ambulance moving as fast as possible. The faster you get the wheels turning on an ambulance, that patient is afforded advanced medical care in an air ambulance or medical facility.”