The Life of an Ambulance Driver

April 9, 2013 at 2:34 am

As the EMT/ First Responder of the group, I was asked by my colleagues to write about what exactly it is like being the wheel of an ambulance, driving with lights and sirens.  It was also suggested that I mention the dos and don’ts of what to do when you see an ambulance, fire engine, or police car approaching from behind.  I know I can’t cover every situation, but I will hit the ones that I come across most frequently.  Before continuing, I would like to make it clear that they do not let any moron behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle.  All operators must complete and pass an Emergency Vehicle Operations course, comprised of classroom and driving time.

SoT Amb Cart

               So, what’s it like driving an F450 Ambulance around with the lights and sirens on, going to pick up a patient or while you have one in back?  At first, to the inexperienced novice, it is one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you could ever get.  For the ones who have a few years of experience and driving under their belt, it’s like a normal drive, while avoiding the idiots who seem like they are completely oblivious to the lights and sirens.  While you’re driving with the lights and sirens on, you become the biggest target on the road, and similar to hazardous road conditions, people forget how to drive.  Finally, driving in the suburbs/countryside is completely different from responding in the city.  When responding through the suburbs, people on BOTH sides of the road pull over and STOP.  In fact, one time, when I was responding, I had a guy on the opposite side of the road put all 4 tires on someone’s lawn, despite me not having a single vehicle in front of me, blocking my path.  A bit of overkill, perhaps, but I still waved and thanked him.

Now, responding in the city is completely different.  In the city, no one wants to move out of the way of the emergency vehicle, unless it’s a cop who can pull them over.  Not to mention, people do not understand the concept of pulling over to the RIGHT, or if a lane is free at an intersection, to keep it free despite which lane it is.  Now, I’m not sure if if people don’t move out of the way because of pure ignorance, or just plain stupidity, but regardless, we know you can see us in your mirror, and it shouldn’t be a surprise when we’re behind you, blasting our air-horn.

So, with all this being said, here are some quick tips for when you see an emergency vehicle responding behind you:

– Pull over to the RIGHT (not left, and don’t just stop in the middle of the road) and come to a COMPLETE STOP.  It’s not easy having to maneuver and have to consider how much space we have when you’re still moving.

–  If there’s awful traffic, some drivers may “play Moses” and split the lanes.  In this case, the left lane pulls over the left, and the right lane over to the right.

– If you’re an an intersection and you see a lane open, (even if it’s the far right lane where you would normally pull over into), keep that lane OPEN, giving us easy access through the light.  Not mention, everyone stop at the intersection!  It allows us to plan our moves before we come up to the area.

– Don’t follow close to us.  We may have to stop suddenly and you may not.  (And we’ll probably win).  Also, police officers love to follow pull over people who are driving too close to emergency vehicles.  (Keep back 300 feet actually means something).  Also, we have extra weight with water tanks, equipment, and patients, so it takes us longer to stop- so PAY ATTENTION!

– We have our lights and siren on for a reason-  because we are needed, so get out of our way because you never know who we are going for- could be your family or a friend.

– Most importantly, there may be multiple emergency vehicles behind one another.  We are required to keep at least 500 feet of running room between us.  So before cutting back into your lane, check to make sure another emergency vehicle isn’t coming.

– Despite all these rules/bits of advice, we (emergency vehicles) do not own the roads.  We still have to stop at all red lights and stop signs despite how severe of a call we’re on.  Also, not many know but we have to stop for school buses who have their Stop signs displayed-  Not too many civilians know that fact either.


With all this said from the perspective of one who is behind the wheel of an ambulance, saving and improving lives, my coworkers and I would hope that you all pay more attention next time an emergency vehicle is behind you. Enjoy the YouTube clip I found of an fire truck responding to a fire.  Take note on the idiot in the SUV at 0:50.  Don’t be that guy!