Ask MC – Follow That Ambulance…or Don’t?

In the comments on my last Ask MC post, Canoehead posed the following concern:

I recently assisted in transporting a baby to a city hospital after he was brought to our ER after an arrest. It was a roll of the dice as to whether he’d make it there, we had 4 adults in the back keeping eyes on him and praying. Stressful, to say the least. Before we left the family was told NOT to try to keep up with the ambulance, and the last thing anyone needed was a car wreck on the way. Every family has been told this, on every transport I’ve been on, and to date none have listened. This morning we were trying to part traffic in the city during rush hour, and the family car was on our butts all the way. About 1 foot off the bumper, in spite of getting floodlighted from the ambulance and the doc making “Get away!!” gestures from the back window.

Do you have any suggestions…our hospital frowns on firing warning shots out the back window. What could be more convincing, and within the law as far as instructions before the transport, and what are officers able to do to help. Obviously we went through several towns fairly fast, and a police chase after a speeding ambulance is darned disruptive and dangerous, so I was at a loss at the time.

My first response is why was the baby arrested?  *Rimshot*  Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Seriously, though, I am assuming someone in care of a baby was hooked and the baby needed some medical attention.  The easy answer would be to further assume there were some cops there as well and they could properly dissuade/distract family from unsafely following the ambulance to St. Farthest.

That seems too easy, though, given canoehead’s apparent repeated experiences.  Taking off my motor helmet and putting on my medic hat (you guys wear hats, right?), I think I’d have a firm, yet brief, conversation with the family about the care their child needs and how following unsafely may distract from that care.  I’d ask them if they wanted the best care their child needs or if they’d prefer sub par care in order to arrive at St. Farthest immediately behind the ambulance.

In my experience, even during the most traumatic of events, there is at least one cool head in the suffering family.  I don’t know why and maybe it’s just good luck on my part.

Short of that, there really isn’t anything you can do to control the actions of others.  I can tell you the odds of an officer stopping an ambulance rolling code is slim to none, erring on the strong side of none.  Now, the vehicle tailgating the ambulance?  Those odds are higher, but the tailgater would have to be pretty egregious in their lousy driving and putting others at severe risk.

The ambulances in these parts tend not to break a bevy of land speed records getting from point A to point B.  People don’t truly understand the meaning of Code 3 operation.  Code 3 is simply activating the lights and sirens.  It doesn’t mean drive like a bat out of Hell and disregard everyone’s safety.  One of the great things about an ambulance is the medic in the back.  While you are headed to the hospital, you are receiving the appropriate medical care you need.  There is less need to drive with imprudence…at least theoretically.

If you can think of a way to explain all of that to the frightened family in the most succinct of ways, that’d be the way I’d go.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

13 thoughts on “Ask MC – Follow That Ambulance…or Don’t?

  1. Having been in this situation several times, I can say that little can be done to control someone’s behavior once they are in a state of panic. On 2 occasions, I have been rear-ended by following family. On both occasions, our transport ended right there and we had to wait for another ambulance to take the patient.

    Like I said, it’s near impossible to control people, but you CAN control your actions. On a few occasions, I have elected to discontinue code-3 transport and drive code-2 due to a following vehicle. This method doesn’t make any friends with the patient’s family and it will probably land you a complaint, but it beats getting in a collision. Management has backed me every time.

    I agree with MC in regards to explaining care and communicating with the family. I usually tell the family to drive safe and NOT follow us. I calmly explain the importance of safe driving and I take down their phone number so I call them once we get to the hospital to update them on whats going on. That is, assuming it’s a covered person under HIPAA.

    No matter what you do, you can’t fix stupid. You can’t expect irrational people to act rationally. Just be safe and do what’s right for you and your patient.

    And with that said, I think I’ll go write a blog post on the subject!

  2. LOL I think you mean “imprudence”. Though impudent driving should be discouraged as well. 😛

  3. Ive been on both sides of the public safety coin in this situation, as the attending EMT and the riding LEO. As a LEO, i very simply state that they should follow us to the hospital at a regular pace, do not follow the EMS units through red lights and other emergent driving, and that should they do so they will be given free admission to speak to our judge. I have been called heartless ( and other les PG terms) for writing a family member of a patient, but as an EMT i also know the safety risks.

    One occasion i was rear ended by a following family member, and had to end our trip on the spot an request an additional unit to finish the transport. The family was furious i didnt keep driving, regardless of the fact that the ambulance was undrivable.

    On a separate occasion our BLS unit, ALS unit and radio car were being followed by a family member in a little civic. The 18-wheeler coming down the hill saw us, but didnt see the family. He braked accordingly to pass through the intersection after we had travelled through it, but did not see the car. He struck her, additional BLS and ALS units were needed, mother and daughter bothe ended up in the trauma room.

  4. i find that asking the fire captain to slow the family down works wonders. if logic and politeness fail, there are all kinds of ways a fire apparatus can slow the family’s car down while the ambulance escapes from the scene.

  5. When I started the EMS job I’m currently at they had us take the EVOC class taught by one of their own people. They gave us a good piece of advice about families that follow. They told us to tell them to start traveling first and we will meet them at the hospital. Though that may not always be possible, it can work in some situations which lessens the risks just a little bit.

  6. This remind me of a time when we lost a family member. The detective told us they would take the body to the mortuary…or something like that. They told us we can follow the police van since we didn’t know where this place was and they didn’t have the address.

    When the police van came, they put the body in back and drove off like they were an ambulance… Speeding down the freeway… cutting people off like crazy. I think they were trying to lose us. They even made an illegal left turn…we followed and got pull over… I’m glad the cop that pull us over knew where we need to go since we were already close to it. He told us exactly where to go and how to get there.

    I don’t know how feasible is it.. but in a situation with an ambulance… wouldn’t there be enough first responders to give most hysterical person a ride to the hospital?

  7. MC, I keep coming back to the old saying, “You can’t fix stupid”… I’ve told family many, many times NOT to follow us. Works about 50% of the time. I’ve also used many of the tactics mentioned above, to varying degrees of success.

    Not too long ago, my father-in-law took ill. Very ill. Our local EMS transported, Code-3, and I rode in the back with Dad. Much to my chagrin, my wife followed behind. RIGHT behind, in fact. I had to call her via cell phone (thank God for the Sync system in her car) and politely ask that she not follow the bus. Since she’s my wife, knowledgeable in all things, and quite intelligent, it never occurred to me to tell her up front not to follow the rig running Code.

    The only thing I’ve had a fair amount of success with is pulling over, getting out, and reiterating to the driver how they are endangering their family member by following so closely. Plus, explaining the fact (again) that even if they are right on our butts all the way to the ER, they will still be sent to the waiting room to register their loved one, NOT coming directly back to the ER. That usually gets ’em off our tail. And if not? We reduce to Code-2 and continue in, as Sean Eddy described above.

    Great topic, btw. This was always a pet peeve of mine when I rode the band-aid box full time.

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