Why are ambulances sometimes left running while unattended?
A) We carry a large number of medications on the ambulances that must be kept within a narrow temperature range. If the medications are allowed to fall outside of the FDA recommended ranges, there is a risk that the potency and efficacy may be negatively affected. This means that we must make every effort to control the environment in which they are stored, which includes heating or cooling the interior of the vehicle during cold or warm weather.

B) We also try to control the inside environment of the ambulance for the comfort of our patients. During periods where outside temperatures are such that the interior of the ambulance can cool down or heat up rapidly, we try to avoid creating a situation where our patients may be exposed to these same variations. In cases of traumatic injury, we must thoroughly examine our patients and frequently remove much of their clothing. After examination and treatment, the patient must be immobilized and prepared for transport.Keeping a patient warm is a fundamental part of the treatment protocol for trauma victims and failure to control the environmental temperatures can have negative consequences for patient outcomes. For obvious reasons, we would not want to place an 85 year old grandmother with a spinal injury on an aluminum stretcher and plastic backboard that is at anything less than 60 degrees.Imagine yourself in this situation and I think you will quickly understand.

C) The ambulances have a large amount of electronic devices and technology systems that run off of the 12 volt DC power system. Many of these devices and systems (including computers) continue to run and consume power even if the ambulance is shut down. When the engine idles, it is also keeping the electrical system charged and all of the on-board systems ready for action. If these items are left operating for longer periods of time without the engine running, we risk depleting the 12 volt batteries and not having sufficient reserve capacity to actually start the engine when needed. This is the same reason why the ambulances are connected to a 120 volt AC powered charging system as soon as they return to the station and are parked in the apparatus bay.

D) Believe it or not, but while idling, the diesel engines in our ambulances use very little fuel. We certainly are aware of your concerns and we try to avoid waste in all of our daily operations. However, for the reasons stated above, we feel that idling is a necessary practice in certain situations.

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1. When should I call 911?
2. Why are ambulances sometimes left running while unattended?
3. Is there an ambulance fee?
4. What do I do when approached by an emergency vehicle using lights and siren?
5. What can I do until help arrives?
6. Who will respond when I call 911?
7. Do all communities provide the same level of care?
8. What is a paramedic intercept?