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For the week of January 17 through January 23, 2001

Wednesday ‘unique’ day for emergency crews

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Fire and Rescue ambulance driver Ron Taylor called last Wednesday morning "unique," even for emergency service crews who are used to responding to accidents on narrow roads in the mountains.

Fresh snow and heavy traffic on the two-lane sections of Highway 75 contributed to multiple accidents and hindered emergency crews.

About 9 a.m., a head-on collision and a rear-end collision occurred within minutes of each other, the first at East Fork Road and the second at Cottonwood Creek Circle, bringing six ambulances from Ketchum and Hailey into action, as well as several sheriff’s deputies’ cars, to negotiate bumper-to-bumper congestion on the icy asphalt. Both accidents happened on two-lane sections of the highway, and six people were taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Later, at a third accident north of Ketchum, one person died at scene and two others were seriously injured.

Ambulances trying to reach the new St. Luke’s hospital north of the East Fork and Cottonwood accidents skirted the stand-still lineup of cars by driving in the median where there was one and driving against oncoming traffic where there wasn’t.

During an interview that afternoon, Taylor described what it was like driving an ambulance under those conditions. He said the conditions made him more cautious but only slowed his and his partner’s response by a minute or less.

What’s more, he said, delays getting patients to the hospital aren’t "necessarily bad," because the more time emergency crews have, the more ability they have to prepare patients for the hospital.

While an ambulance rushes to the emergency room, emergency medical crews inside the vehicle do "a multitude of things," such as stabilizing the patient, administering intravenous fluids and asking questions about the patient’s medical history. With more time, ambulance crews are able to "paint a full picture" for the waiting emergency room team.

As for negotiating the most congested two-lane sections of the highway that required ambulances to drive against traffic for up to two miles, Taylor said that isn’t really a problem because other motorists are "very aware--they do a great job of getting out of the way."

"Unlike TV and the movies, we don’t go fast and out of control," he said.

In bad conditions, like those that existed last Wednesday, he’ll usually drive 30 to 40 miles per hour, or whatever speed road and weather conditions allow.

State law allows five miles per hour over the speed limit in cities and 10 miles per hour over on highways.

Taylor was asked how has his job had changed since the emergency room in Hailey closed Nov. 19, leaving St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center with the county’s only emergency room.

"Not at all really," he said. It’s added just "a little bit more transport time."

When asked how his job could be made easier, Taylor’s first thoughts were about other vehicles. He acknowledged ambulances occasionally do have problems with other motorists who are reluctant to yield the roadway.

When using sirens, he said, "we’re asking permission to pass. [Motorists] don’t necessarily have to give it."

But Taylor doesn’t believe having four lanes of asphalt would automatically relieve ambulances from relying on the altruism of other drivers.

"I don’t know if widening the highway is the answer," he said, because "each accident poses its own unique problems."

Another improvement will happen when the county’s new paramedics begin working, increasing the level of care patients get on the way to the hospital. The paramedics are currently finishing their training in Las Vegas. No date has been set for them to begin work here.



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