The ambulance ride from Hell

I served as a part-time volunteer with St. John Ambulance back in South Africa many years ago.  It was a fascinating time, seeing the streets from the perspective of EMS and the seedier side of life from many angles.  I was never a paramedic or EMT in the US sense;  merely a concerned citizen who volunteered first to be trained, then to serve, without compensation.  I don’t know whether such services even exist in the USA, but this was half a world away and more than a generation ago.

Be that as it may, I can recall a few fairly hairy rides as the driver tried to get to hospital as quickly as possible, leaving the (qualified) emergency medical technician and his volunteer assistant (that would be me) to try to keep the patient alive and/or on the stretcher while he did so.  I caught one baby halfway through a ride like that . . . we went round a corner on what felt like two wheels, Momma said “EEEK!” and whoops, there came Junior, straight down the chute!  Fortunately, I was able to stop the baby from hitting the floor.  We had a (rather shaky) laugh about it when we got to the hospital.  At the time . . . not so much.

In that light, I found this article at Jalopnik fascinating.  It describes an ambulance covering a 15-minute road trip in just six minutes.  Looking at the speed, I don’t think the medics in the back had a hope in hell of doing anything useful during that time!

I see that my buddy Ambulance Driver has already commented on his blog about the video.  I’ll have to have a beer or three with him next time we meet, and exchange stories of hell-rides we have known.  (I’m betting he’s had a lot more than I have!)



  1. Volunteer EMS is alive and well in rural Kansas as well as volunteer firefighters. The local city clerk will have you stabilized before the 'professionals' show up. She is also dispatcher for the volunteer fire dept. So when she gets a call, she steps into the saloon lets the well-oiled cowboys know and the fire is out before for the 'professionals' get there.

  2. Peter, I know you spent some time at sea as a merchant seaman like me. Do you think that learning basic tasks like eating dinner in a storm helped prepare you for working in the back of a moving ambulance?
    It wasn't too long ago that I sat down to dinner where I had one foot on the bulkhead, the other on the floor to keep my chair from flying across the deck, and, with one hand curled around my cup (with pinched fingers holding on to the plate on the same hand), was still able to snatch a pork chop out of the air when it lifted off my plate and took off for the wild blue yonder.

  3. I had the ride from hell as a patient after a heart attack. The EMTs were trying to start an IV in each arm, they got one done after several tries, the other never did work.
    Luckily the heart doc knew I was in route so I went straight into the OR.

  4. Any of y'all come to Southern Maryland, I'll give you a run just like that. Not quite as much town, but we've got our share of traffic from the Navy base and bridges. Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad (
    It's a real trick driving like that. You've got to balance the need for speed with the fact that you've got a number of people unbelted moving around in the back of the ambulance working on the patient, some with sharp needles, lots of loose gear, etc. You've got to be very smooth in your maneuvers, especially when the EMT is trying to get a "stick" (IV) or you have a patient with back or other movement-sensitive pain.
    "If you don't like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk!"
    Oh, and after being challenged by Lagniappe's Lair, I got my blog online!

  5. Well, as he's making some right turns, it's not NASCAR, Indy car maybe? Ambulance division?
    Talk about hold on for your life. That's a ride that I'd like to remember, and if I'm in the back, I'd probably be too messed up to do so.

  6. Volunteer EMS and Firefighting are alive in VA, as well. At least, in the rural counties like mine it is. I live just a mile from the primary EMS station and within cringing distance of the county's primary firefighter alert siren. Some days, it's enough to make me glad that I'm half-deaf.

  7. That was one HELL of a ride. The man can drive.

    To drive like that in traffic like that takes long experience of doing it in that place.

  8. That was a tragedy waiting to happen.
    Most anyone who has driven an emergency vehicle will tell you that code 4 nonetheless, you don't blow through red lights like that. Modern electronic sirens are not like those old mechanical Federals. You can't always hear the damn things until it's right on top of you. If you blow through one of those intersections without even a pause for a look-see and you're just asking to get T-boned or to T-bone someone else.

  9. Volunteer EMS and Fire is definitely alive and well in Connecticut. In my town the only paid personnel is the occasional weekday EMT when they can't cover the shift. The drivers are always volunteers,as are night, weekend, holiday shifts.

  10. I agree with Roy. My dad was a peace office from 62-85. His old 60's Ford had the mechanical siren that MOVED AIR. You could feel those before you could hear them. I think the cables were 1/0 or so. Those motors pulled a lot of current.

    I didn't think it was a US city, just based on the way he drove, and the decisive way that the other drivers got out of the way. Maybe they didn't have a/c running max, and their thump generators at full blast either. Those that stayed in their lane didn't leave it. The times I've seen that in south Texas, you'd swear drivers were doing their best to make it IMPOSSIBLE for the ambulance to continue on.

    Quite the hair raising ride!

  11. I got a brand new flash for you, Ambulance Driver. If I ever call the meat wagon, I'd want this man behind the wheel; not you. He'll get to me while you're still trying to find your way through the first traffic jam, and I'll be at the ER before you pull up to your first destination. Yeah, yeah, safety and all that. What if he gets hit and doesn't make to the hospital, yada yada yada.

    What if he DOESN'T get hit? What if we all make it to the hospital? What if I live, or more likely, have a better quality of life because we got to the hospital in five minutes instead of 25?

    Watch the video again. There are some truly stupid drivers out there, and this man rolls right on past them, just slowing enough to get through the mess. He's been there, done that and now owns the tee-shirt concession. Drivers in the US? Eh, not so much.

    Big light on the back street
    Hill to ever more
    Packin' down the ladder
    With the hammer to the floor

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