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Western Health unveils custom, high safety new ambulance

(From left) Primary Care Paramedic Matt Gallant, Regional Director of Paramedicine and Medical Transport David Buckle, and Advanced Care Paramedic Heather Williams pose in front of Western Health’s new ambulance on Monday.
(From left) Primary Care Paramedic Matt Gallant, Regional Director of Paramedicine and Medical Transport David Buckle, and Advanced Care Paramedic Heather Williams pose in front of Western Health’s new ambulance on Monday.

Corner Brook has a new ambulance on its streets.

And Regional Director of Paramedicine and Medical Transport David Buckle says the thing works as a portable emergency room.

He, along with the help of Eastern Health’s Corey Banks helped design the vehicle along with manufacturer Tri-Star, who ultimately custom built the machine for Western Health.

“We drew up the specs on it and said here’s what we want you to build, and they built it for us custom build,” said Buckle.

The design of the ambulance allows for much greater safety and versatility both for the paramedics and patients on board, as well as the other drivers the ambulance encounters on the road.

One feature that allows this is the Whalen Howler – a contraption that converts the sound waves from the ambulance’s siren in real time to pitches far below the normal range, creating a pulse that driver’s not only hear, but feel.

“The science says that when you lower the sound waves, you can push through walls, that you can push through barriers that you can’t with a higher sound wave,” said Buckle. “It’s the same idea as when you’re standing in front of a speaker at a concert and you can hear the bass just hitting your chest.”

Heather Williams is a paramedic with Western Health. She thinks the new addition can only help when attending to a call.

“A lot of people got the radio up loud, and they don’t hear the siren, but now they feel the vibration,” she said. “So a lot of time people won’t respond to lights and siren but as soon as we turn the Howler on, it’s like they’re blinking and turning right immediately”

While the Howler does prove more effective in warning drivers of the ambulance’s presence on the road, Buckle said drivers shouldn’t be afraid when they hear it. A computer module on board the ambulance regulates the amount of time the Howler can sound for – eight seconds, before it shuts itself off.

Other safety features specially designed for the vehicle include an infrared camera near the dash area. It offers a host of options for the paramedics on board, including scanning the area in front of the ambulance for moose, while driving at night. Another option it allows is to scan the perimeter of a car accident, and locate any bodies that could have potentially been thrown from the vehicle.

The ambulance allows for greater safety for the paramedics on board by facing the seats in the rear of the vehicle forward, as opposed to the typical sideways formation of sitting, something that risks serious neck injury for paramedics in the case of an accident.

It also has a military grade four wheel drive system; something Buckle said is essential for an ambulance responding to calls in Corner Brook and its steep inclines from December-late April.

All of these features come at a time when the volume of ambulance call-outs has been increasingly significantly in the city.

“Five years ago we were doing about 100 calls a month, now we’re looking at 180, and sometime in March of this year we crossed over to the 200 mark for the first time ever. 200 emergency responses in the city and in the Bay of Islands,” said Buckle.

He indicated there were several reasons for the increase in calls – an aging population, drug addiction and mental health – but one of them is the growing awareness amongst the population for what an ambulance can provide and respond to.

“It’s like our emergency department, moving it downtown for example, when we move this thing out,” said Buckle. “We have an advance care that can provide almost all of the same procedures that we can provide in the emergency department.
“We are so appreciative of the hospital foundation coming forward and purchasing this vehicle for us, and the people that contributed personally to purchasing this vehicle. When we’re able to push it out there and provide the care that we do we’re excited about that.”

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