It’s getting cold here in the Midwest for the first time this year. We have been lucky, with lots of warm fall weather. Now that the snowflakes are falling it’s time to review the different ways to keep EMS patients warm. We run on a hundred thousand dollar truck, carrying half again that much in medical equipment, and yet often can’t find a warm blanket for our patients.
Emergency Rooms know the huge value of a warm blanket and a smile. These are the things that really make a difference to a sick patient. They are already scared and feeling terrible, being cold and sick too is a lot to ask. But on many ambulances today keeping patients warm is largely an afterthought. I suggest you take some of your ambulance blankets home, and next time you get
a little chilly try them out. See what actually works and use the information to put a smile on somebody’s face today.
Their best application may be as a blanket liner, to help keep your primary cover clean while enhancing performance. Their biggest advantage is the compact size, making them a top choice for emergency kits.
The tissue and poly-foam disposables just don’t offer much warmth if you ask me. Their greatest advantage is being cheap. There are foam backed plastic and tissue backed plastic, with the first offering slightly better performance.
The next level up, so to speak is the old Cotton Blanket. Hospitals use these a lot, and as a direct result so do many ambulances. Hospitals like them because they launder pretty well, and with low capital costs and fairly durable construction are actually the cheapest way to go.
We used to use these a lot in the old days, again as liners with our red wool winter blankets. The cheap 5-finger price and keeping the wool blanket clean had big advantages. This combination is also about one the least expensive combinations to keep people warm in real cold weather.
The next is of course is wool or wool-blend blankets. These are rugged, warm, and some can be used as a fire blanket. They really don’t wash well, so frequently cleaning is an issue.
But boy do they work when it’s cold.
Cot quilts are even a better choice. There are a few on the market, made especially for ambulance use. They lie under the cot mattress, and then fold around the patient. They secure around the patient with hook & loop fasteners, so you can access a limb. They work extremely well, and if you are in the Northern States you really need to have a look.
One newer blanket I really love is the simple nylon/fleece combination. These blankets are under 20$ yet really perform astonishingly well. They trap body heat between the nylon and fleece layers. This insulating air space creates a high-performance thermal barrier. I keep one on my sofa, and one in my car at all times. These are probably the best blankets for the money you can buy.
Another new type of blanket is the active heating disposables. These are something I think everybody should keep around for weather emergencies. They work rather mysteriously, combining oxygen, iron filings, and vermiculite inside a polypropylene cover. They work like those instant hand warmer that hunters like to use.
When you open the package and let air hit the blanket, they heat up in about 10 minutes. They are pretty expensive for daily use, but really can be a lifesaver in a disaster big or small. They stay warm for up to 8 hours too. If you think there is even any chance of getting caught out all night in bad weather, these blankets are a must have.
One of my favorite new products from the EXPO this year is new Comfort Zone
Blanket Warmer. The Comfort Zone is a durable hard case that contains and heats a standard blanket. You just leave it plugged into a DC outlet in the ambulance, to keep a blanket ready and warm all the time.
Your local weather, costs, and performance are all important considerations when choosing a blanket. Just please don’t make your patients suffer in cold weather. We need to be respectful and responsible when addressing the most basic care needs of our patients. A warm blanket and a smile are an important part of doing just that.