Dec 302014

kudFor many EMS providers, it’s hard to imagine responding to calls in this day and age without a GPS guiding them to the front door of a scene. Technology has, in many ways, vastly improved efficiency for EMS. Specialized vehicle identification programs like Ferno’s ACETECH system and ZOLL’s RescueNet Road Safety system have introduced new technologies that have taken EMS vehicle dynamics to the next level with innovative features, such as error reporting, asset tracking, engine idle recording and much more.

Financial Benefits
You might be asking yourself why your agency should implement a vehicle safety system when you’re already struggling to make ends meet with tight budgets and fewer personnel. Prevention of just one ambulance crash makes a vehicle safety program well worth the investment, says Rob Lawrence, chief operating officer of Richmond Ambulance Authority (RAA) and user of RescueNet.

“The key benefit of the system is that it’s a ‘proven’ solution that helps us avoid injuries and even deaths by reducing aggressive driving actions, while increasing driver awareness through a proactive approach toward behavior modification,” says Lawrence. ZOLL estimates the system saves more than $1,500 in maintenance costs per vehicle per year; increases vehicle life expectancy by 20% for EMS providers and decreases costs tied to crash-related repairs by 30%. That can prove to be a major return on your investment.

The presence of RescueNet has also reduced insurance rates and vehicle maintenance costs in Richmond, Lawrence says. “The ability to look at vehicle idling, for example, alerted us to the fact that we could do a better job and control costs by reducing fuel usage,” says Lawrence. As a result, RAA developed a solar panel solution.

Modular Design
An important point is that agencies aren’t required to purchase all the system’s features if they don’t need them, or cannot initially afford them; instead, they can tailor the system to their needs, according to Pete Sansone, ACETECH account manager at Ferno.

“Four of five modules can be retrofitted to any vehicle. Only the Electronic Controller Unit (ECU) has to be installed during vehicle conversion/build.” Therefore, if an agency wants only the AVI (advanced vehicle informatics) system, for example, their total cost will reflect that.

Error Reporting
Perhaps the most valuable feature of vehicle safety programs is their ability to report errors that occur in the field, allowing staff at headquarters to know exactly what’s going on. The ACETECH system offers a real-time reporting feature, so key personnel can view a live map from their desk or mobile computer that displays icons showing each ambulance’s precise location, direction, speed and movement.

At the completion of a crew’s designated shift, an easy-to-review customized report is then automatically created. This tracks each provider’s speed levels, G-forces, and turning or accelerating forces, and then transmits a report. Each driver is then given an overall review of selected parameters established in advance that they and their managers can review, discuss or work to improve. Detailed reports rank overall performance, giving or a numeric ranking from 0 to 10 for RescueNet and a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” icon for ACETECH. The reports are transmitted wirelessly to the agency’s headquarters and can be accessed online by administrative staff, Sansone says. If an error occurs or a problem arises, an SMS text or e-mail alert can be sent directly to key personnel, so the issue can be addressed.

If administration is concerned with a specific provider’s performance based on their scores, they can address those issues and bring  them  back to prescribed, acceptable levels in accordance with operating procedures
or protocols.

“Using the weekly managed service report from ZOLL, we are able to publish, for all to see, driver ‘league tables,’ which show how staff members perform in a number of driving situations, such as emergency only or all driving activity. The driver is required to be above the quality line for each category of driving,” says Lawrence.

From there, personnel are able to determine which percentage of their drivers need additional training to put them above the minimum acceptance platform, according to Lawrence. For the ACETECH system, a quick overall snapshot of how a fleet is doing during the past 24 hours is presented on the system’s home page. Excess speeds and G-forces are recorded and ratings (scores) are presented.

Real-time technology also assists in identifying any mechanical problems that may occur—while they’re occurring. This is important because a problem found early is often much easier—and less expensive—to repair. If a vehicle’s engine is overheating or a battery is running low, the AVI module can create an exception report, Sansone says. “[ACETECH] can intercept the diagnostic code and relay information to an operations manager so they can take corrective
action immediately.”

The real-time data is also a valuable documentation and training tool. If a community member calls and complains that a crew was speeding or driving in a reckless manner at the intersection of “X and Y” at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning, a manager can cue up the system and see not only the unit and its exact travel route on their screen, but they can also see speed and travel
patterns, such as G-forces, involved in vehicle stops, starts and turns—at the exact time specified.

The asset tracking system is another feature that uses real-time reporting, Sansone says. A radio frequency, tag, similar to a bar code, allows crews to track and keep an inventory of crucial vehicle equipment. If a crew member forgets to grab a defibrillator from a scene, an alert will let them know its missing. Similarly, this feature helps prevent theft, and it can not only track the various pieces of equipment housed on one rig, but it can also record the locations of items on multiple vehicles at once.

Lawrence highlights the value of the “train as you go” benefits of the system for crews because of the hands-on trial-and-error experience they receive as they respond to the various alerts about their driving performance while they’re running calls, while Sansone touts the visual playback capabilities as valuable for after-action evaluation and training.

Whether your agency seeks to decrease the carbon footprint of its fleet, reduce errors and increase the driving skills, cut costs, improve wireless communication capabilities or accomplish all of these goals, fleet management and vehicle safety systems offer innovative and user-friendly solutions. With the help of innovative programs like RescueNet and ACETECH, EMS agencies can increase their overall efficiency—and in so doing, make strides toward better patient care.

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