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September 15, 2013

Safety of emergency responders a concern

STILLWATER, Okla. — Researchers at the forefront of ambulance safety design spoke to community members and students Friday in the Willard Lecture Hall at Oklahoma State University.

The Design Housing and Merchandise Department in the College of Human Sciences hosted the presentation titled “Ambulance Safety Program: A Clear View of the Future.”

Nadine Levick and Chris Fitzgerald, both originally from Australia, were two key speakers at the event.

Levick is one the world’s foremost leaders in the field of emergency medical services. She is the founder and chief executive officer at EMS Safety Foundation, headquartered in New York. Fitzgerald is a certified professional ergonomist with extensive experience developing design guidelines for emergency services.

“I’m here to inform you but also to entertain you,” Levick said. Her presentation included multimedia video, audio and photos.

In the U.S., there are more safety standards for transporting cattle than patients, according to her research.

One video showed what happens when ambulances roll in large-scale accidents and how they cannot sustain the damage.

“EMS is in a crisis, but it means both danger and opportunity,” she said.

Levick showed many headlines with accidents involving ambulance vehicles. Two-thirds of accidents happen to people who had nothing to do with the transport. These accidents cost approximately $500 million annually.

Levick also was an advocate for reducing lights and sounds, saying it has not helped reduce crashes. She cited rushed driving and response times as reasons for the crashes.

The safety foundation focuses on the provider, public and patient in that order. Levick said the provider needed to be in top shape to give the best service to patients.

EMT’s are not able to provide care as effectively as they could due to the way ambulance cabin’s are designed.

That is where Fitzgerald has worked to create efficiency.

A detailed look at seating height, breathing apparatus and better storage design has helped over the years. He has worked to create safer, less complex and cheaper cabins.

“The problem, today’s vehicles need to fit tomorrow’s firefighters,” he said.

With extensive work done on fire engines, Fitzgerald looks at the life of the vehicle. He also includes more female responders in the mix..

As far as what can be altered in an ambulance, Levick and Fitzgerald saw several issues.

One is that 80,000 ambulances have side benches, Levick said. Ergonomically, the EMT has problems reaching the patient and their equipment. Injuries can occur at sudden stops like neck injury and not more than two responders can fit on the bench at once.

Items that are not restrained can also cause injury, Fitzgerald said.

An audience member asked why there are no safety regulations for ambulances.

Levick was quick to respond that the $8 million dollar industry is based on tradition with the absence of one crucial factor — science.

“In the absence of regulation we are creating a market brand,” Fitzgerald said.

Katherine Williams, a DHM senior, said she goes to professional events like these because she is interested in EMS and safety.

“My dad is a doctor, and I really want to get into the medical field,” she said.

Friday night, Williams got to witness how design and the medical field overlap.  

Levick’s high-tech presentation included hand-outs with QR codes to the most recent EMS Safety Systems, Strategies and Solutions Summit in Washington, D.C. Links to her handouts can be found online at the foundation’s website,

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