Ambulance crews ready for storm

Sean Philip Cotter

It’s not usually during a big snow storm when White Rose Ambulance is at its busiest.

White Rose Ambulance tweeted out a picture of a couple of their emergency vehicles Friday afternoon, saying they were ready for the storm.

It’s right after the storm, when people who are sick or older overexert themselves clearing away snow, or when people stick their hands into jammed snowblowers, for a couple of examples, when the calls start pouring in.

“We see the greatest spike when the great cleanup begins,” said Ted Hake, the company’s vice president.

On top of that is the jump in transport services, he said. The ambulance company shuttles people between the the local hospitals. During the storm, that service stops for all but the most absolutely necessary trips.

So on Friday, before the storm, the company was busy helping the hospitals smoosh as many scheduled transports in before the snow began. Weather services are forecasting a foot or more of snow to fall on York County between Friday and Saturday nights.

The calls will start back up with a vengeance after the snow tapers off, too.

“Today’s busy and Monday will be extremely busy,” Hake said shortly after noon Friday.

The company plans to have off-duty members sleep at the station in York City's east end rather than commute to and from work for their 12-hour shifts.

York Hospital has done much the same, setting up sleeping areas and cots to make sure staff can stay there between shifts.

"We do have protocols in place to ensure we have appropriate and safe staffing levels," said Brett Marcy, a spokesman for Wellspan, which runs the hospital.

The hospital's helipad is heated from below; as is the way leading up to where the emergency unit when the renovations are done on it, Marcy said.

When out on emergency calls, the ambulance drivers try to stick to the main snow emergency routes to get around. When a snow emergency is declared — as it is in York City for this weekend, starting 7 p.m. Friday — all cars have to be off those roads so they can stay open and plowed.

But, of course, not everyone who needs an ambulance will be living on the nice main roads, so the ambulance crews, which consist of some combination of emergency medical technicians and the more highly trained paramedics, often will have to carry the patient on a stretcher to the nearest cleared intersection in order to get the patient into an ambulance.

The other option is using one of the ambulance company supervisors’ four-wheel-drive SUVs to travel down streets that are in rougher shape, Hake said. Though the ambulances will have chains on the tires, they’re still less suited for such conditions.

They add another person to their usual two-person ambulance crews for some extra manpower for “trudging through the snow” with the ambulance litter, Hake said.

They also call for fire department assistance more than they normally do, Hake said. It’s not unusual under normal circumstances for York County 911 to dispatch a fire unit bearing a few firefighters to help the medical personnel lift someone, but they’ll do so much more during a storm.

There have been a few storms in the past during which county control began automatically sending out fire units with every medical call, he said.

There’s a couple of ways the general public can make life easier for emergency responders.

“The worst thing for us is when people abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road,” he said.

So don’t do that. Also, don’t just call 911 for minor concerns, he said.

“911 is for emergencies only,” Hake said.

— Reach Sean Cotter