New ambulances raise safety concerns for paramedics

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New ambulances for EMS on Oahu had to be taken off the road after complaints were filed to the state labor department.

Paramedics say the new vehicles are not properly retrofitted and it’s putting crews and patients in harm’s way.

The state labor department says no violations were found. But the EMS chief says safety concerns raised by the paramedics are already being addressed. And the ambulances will be back on the road next week.

EMS has a fleet of 53 ambulances, but only 24 are actually in service. So more than half are either sitting idle at the city repair yard in Halawa, or at the dealership under warranty. With five new ambulances, the city decided to put two in use a couple of weeks ago.

“We were out of spare ambulances and we were gonna put a couple of the crews on the SUV so we decided to deploy two of them,” said EMS Chief Dean Nakano.

He says the SUV’s are not ideal because they don’t have room to transport patients so they used the new ambulances. But paramedics filed an anonymous complaint to the labor department saying the metal bar on the floor panel was overheating. Also, oxygen tanks weren’t properly tied down and could fly like missiles while on the road.

“Should they have not been put in at all if it was that dangerous?” KHON2 asked.
“Well I didn’t think it was that dangerous because we were able to strap the tanks down and we’ve done that before,” said Nakano.

He showed us that there were straps to keep the tanks tied down and they’ve added what look like cup holders to keep them more secure. As for the overheating, he says insulation will be installed to prevent it. Nakano points out that the new ambulances are different models and were bought as emergency purchases.

“We were able to get them in two months versus having to wait a year and a half, so that’s why we went with these,” he said.

He says it does bring to light the bigger problem, they need more ambulances. They will get four more this month but more than two-thirds of the fleet have more than 200,000 miles, which is why so many are under repair. And it takes months to get them fixed.

“It’s hard for us to get them back because they don’t keep the parts in stock and they have to wait for the parts to be delivered,” said Nakano.

He says the ambulance shortage is also part of the reason why units are closing down. EMS requests $55 million a year for its budget and the state health department approved $46 million. A review of the all EMS systems statewide is scheduled to start soon and should be finished by the end of the year.

Nakano says he’s looking forward to that review because it will likely show that Oahu EMS needs more resources due to the large volume of calls on this island.

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