Allina rolls out new design for safer ambulances after fatal crash

On a wintry January day in 2014, an Allina ambulance collided with an SUV in Buffalo, Minn.  The driver of the SUV was killed and the ambulance crew critically injured.  As the victims recovered, Allina decided its crew could be better protected, and they quickly got to work figuring out a new ambulance design.

With the cab crushed, it's stunning to know that EMT driver Tim Daly survived, but he was critically injured along with paramedic Brian Nagel who was in the back with the patient.  For Allina ambulance, it was their worst crash ever, but it also helped the company turn a corner.

“I've had many paramedics say ‘I may not like the change but if you provide a safer environment for me to do my work that's a good thing,’” President of Allina EMS Brian Lacroix said.

Improved safety begins with the rig.

“The American way is to make things bigger and bolder and better, this is a departure from that,” Director of Operations at Allina EMS Jeff Czyson said.

There is a prototype ready to hit the road on Oct. 1. It's not perfect, but the design is getting close to the real deal. The most obvious change is that the bench seat is gone.

“By positioning them in a seat that gives them that support allowing them to face forward or rearward or as you see here at a 45-degree angle to be able to render care, a much safer position for them to be in,” Czyson said.

Plus, instead of a lap belt, here's a four point harness for crew. The cabinets are padded, and angled.  And everything possible is within arm's reach, keeping the EMT or paramedic safely in their seat the majority of the ride.

Since the Buffalo crash, there's also a new push to treat before transport, eliminating some procedures previously done on the road, and keeping the crew buckled and seated.

But improved safety also comes with busting the myth that an ambulance is always barreling down the highway at full speed – “there are certain clinical conditions where speed matters but frankly there are very few, and we're trying to slow ambulances down,” Lacroix said.

Allina has implemented an audio system for drivers with a series of clicks and tones as warnings.  If you’re too tight on a curve, or too fast, you'll know it.

There have been a lot of lessons learned since that wintry day in Buffalo.  Without a doubt, there is an understanding that while its Alina’s business is to save lives, it's their mission to do it as safely as possible for patients, for the crew, and for everyone.

Allina hopes to have 12 new rigs ready to roll within about one year, while eventually phasing out all the old designs.