Using Red Lights & Siren Only When Parked

What would happen if we just stopped running hot? Would anybody needlessly die, or would fewer die? I wonder about it a lot. We already know what the consequence are of running lights and sirens every day; ambulance accidents, and the deaths of EMT’s and Medics along with members of the public. We also know what the time saved is using them; not much. I have read estimates that using emergency warning devices saves at most 2 minutes. Does 2 minutes really make a difference? Perhaps, but only in some pretty isolated circumstances.

The only one I can think of is a patient requiring surgical intervention. If you have a trauma patient, 2 minutes to scene saved plus 2 more saved en-route to the hospital might make a difference. I don’t think 2 minutes makes a difference on a medical cardiac arrest if the first responders arrive quickly with an AED. They can use those 2 minutes doing 200 compressions and trying a few shocks until you arrive. Can you really think of another time when 2 minutes has really ever made a difference?

I wish one of the nations larger cities would study this. What if somebody tried very rarely running hot to the scene and ONLY running hot to the hospital with multi-system trauma patients that have a BP under 100 and heart rate over 100? I would bet almost anything that statistically almost nobody new would die, and there would be fewer accidents and injuries.

Driving fast with lights and sirens is not a right, it’s not a privilege. It is dangerous and expensive. If your Medics are competent they can handle the care needs for an extra two minutes. In one system I was proud to work in, asking to run hot to the hospital was tantamount to admitting you were helpless to manage patient care. We did use them, but it sure did not happen as often as another system I worked in years later.

There they ran hot to the scene based on the sole fact the caller dialed 911. That made it an emergency and a code response. It was crazy dangerous, particularly given the population density and road conditions. Let’s try something different and see how it works. Let’s try using lights and sirens only when we are parked on the highway.


About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for, on and I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
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One Response to Using Red Lights & Siren Only When Parked

  1. Evan Feuer says:

    In 99% of the situations out there, when the paramedics arrive the emergency is handled. Except under certain circumstances in certain geographies there is almost never a good reason to go lights and sirens to the hospitals. That is unless you consider having fun playing with the siren a good reason.

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