One of my best friends from school, Jason, recently advanced from EMT to paramedic after quite a few years of intensive training. I had met him on several occasions during his EMT and paramedic training as he had some questions about wireless communication equipment, and he know what kind of a geek I am in that department. I was more than happy to look through his training materials on the emergency services’ radio communications and help him out to understand some of the technicalities.
One important part of EMT training was the wireless communication between the ambulances, emergency responders, ambulance base and the hospitals. While the communications devices in ambulances are designed to be relatively easy to use, EMTs have to be aware of how they work and to an extent know how to troubleshoot any problems.
ambulanceJason has been in the emergency services for about 9 years now and he started out his EMT training in NJ somewhere (I’ll double check with him the next time I talk to him). I like talking to him about some the technological advances he has encountered. One area that doesn’t seem to have changed that much though is the radio communication in the ambulances. This is kind of strange to me because there have been so many advances that could be used, but I guess there is a lot of security to take into account as well.
The basic principle of the EMS comm system is very similar to ham radio in that it is a two way system, but it does have some extras built in. First of all it uses a frequency that is only allowed to be used by emergency and police services. It also a backup/redundant capability system for each vehicle, so that if one system fails another can take over
The system is set up so that EMTs and paramedics can easily communicate with hospitals, ambulance bases and very importantly with other emergency services like the police and fire departments. One thing that has evolved a bit is quality of the mobile on person radio devices that emergency responders carry. Jason had in the past complained about how difficult it could be to get a clear message across and there were often misunderstandings even with a code and terminology set that was supposed to avoid misunderstandings.
I know this very well from my own radio equipment, that the smaller a device the more difficult it is to get a good reception. But I am glad to hear that medical professionals like Jason have received better equipment as it can mean a big difference between a patient living or dying.
One of the most important lines of communication is between the 999 operators and emergency department dispatching services to the ambulance. In some circumstances information is relayed, but it can also happen that a 999 operator is directly patched through to an ambulance crew to pass on vital information about a scene of accident for example.
Because the radio system being used today has become so reliable it is still the favored system and emergency crews quickly adapt to an audio quality that can often be of fluctuating quality. I guess it is sometimes better the devil you know.