How do ambulances get through insane amounts of traffic? Like, Los Angeles/New York/Houston-Texas-at-rush-hour-gridlock-on-IH-10-with-shoulder-lanes-full-of-debris traffic? Especially with patients in critical condition who maybe weren't in critical enough condition to justify a helicopter ride. Do ambulances ever have to go off-road or hop curbs if the shoulders are too messy to drive on?
The short answer is, we get stuck in traffic like everybody else. Medics and EMTs will do our best to get around traffic, but if it’s gridlocked, it’s gridlocked. Nobody can move over because there’s no space to move over.
Also, there’s a phenomenon that will repeatedly happen where 99% of the people pull to the right and one idiot pulls over to the left, completely blocking our way, and then get very confused when we keep hitting the air horn telling them to just move forward. It’s extremely frustrating. I actually asked for a reassignment away from my city center in part because driving lights and sirens in bumper-to-bumper traffic was making me tense and agitated all the time. (I then transferred to a high-crime, low-income area and my patients’ acuity stresses me out, so it’s a trade-off…)
Generally speaking, when traffic is that bad I personally try to stick to large streets (where there might be more room), and especially to two-way streets without a physical divider, because I can zig and zag across the double yellow to make use of road space.
There’s actually an interesting mindset shift. Before EMS, I thought of a double yellow as a wall. Now I simply see it as paint on the road, a suggestion that I am not bound to (if I need to get somewhere while at work). Similarly, we can go the wrong way down a one-way street if we need to.
Highways can sometimes be better than surface streets, because if there is a shoulder, we can abuse it; even if it’s a half-lane shoulder on the left side of the road, we can generally get people in the left lane to squeeze closer to cars in the middle lane and give us enough room to invent a lane on the far left. But that’s not always possible, especially on elevated highways that were built on the cheap with limited (or no) shoulders.
As for surface street driving, sidewalks may seem like a good idea, but they’re usually rife with obstacles like telephone poles, lampposts, street trees, or pedestrians. Street signs that a car would slip right under might smack an ambulance as it goes past; the same with awnings and overhangs.
So typically we simply do what we have to do, put our heads down, push as much as we can, accept what we cannot change. The medic attending the patient will do what they can for them, and often times for critically ill people we try to get a second unit (so that two medics can take care of the patient while an EMT from a separate crew drives the vehicle).
One thing to understand about critical patients dying en
route to hospitals: most of them were
going to die anyway, no matter what we did. We’ll do what we can for them,
but in the end many were beyond saving to begin with, no matter how quickly
they got to a hospital.And it can be extremely frustrating to have someone crash on you, even if you know they’re going t
I hope this helps your storytelling!