Thursday, February 29, 2024

EMS Discussion - Use of Lights & Sirens

EMS Providers should be aware of the ongoing discussion surrounding the use of lights and sirens during emergency calls. There is a growing concern about the risks associated with their use, such as an increased likelihood of accidents and harm to patients.

EMS Providers should stay updated on local and national guidelines regarding when to use lights and sirens to ensure the safety of both themselves and the public.

Those operating emergency vehicles must consider alarming statistics showing that ambulance crashes significantly impact clinicians, patients, and the public, with the risk of a crash increasing by over 50% when lights and sirens are activated.

It is crucial for EMS Leaders to implement well-researched guidelines supporting the restricted use of lights and sirens to enhance the safety of all individuals involved in emergency responses.

In an outstanding demonstration of collaboration on provider, patient, and community safety, 13 national and international associations have partnered on the release of a Joint Statement on Lights and Siren Vehicle Operations in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Responses (NAEMT, 2022).

The statement articulates principles guiding the use of lights and sirens during emergency vehicle responses to medical calls and initiatives to decrease their use safely. EMS vehicle operations using lights and sirens pose significant risks to both providers and the public. Therefore, their use should be limited to situations where time saved is expected to be clinically important to a patient’s outcome (Merill, 2022).

Communication centers should utilize structured call triage and categorization to identify subsets of calls based on the response resources needed and medical urgency. Physician oversight is crucial in developing response configurations and modes for these protocols.

Agency Leadership should monitor the rates of lights and sirens use, appropriateness, compliance, and outcomes related to their use. Municipal Leaders should be aware of the increased crash risks, and quality care metrics should drive contract agreements.

States and provinces should monitor and report on emergency vehicle crashes to better understand the risks associated with lights and sirens use.

Collaboration between EMS and Fire Agency Leaders is essential in understanding public perceptions and improving education about the risks associated with lights and sirens to create safer expectations.

According to a recent presentation by NEMSQA, 87% of EMS responses were made with the use of lights & sirens, while transports nationally used them 51% of the time. The time savings averaged 102-216 seconds during a response and between 42-228 seconds for transports (from multiple recent studies); yet life-saving interventions are being done in only 6.9% of responses (according to an ESO study of 7.5M records).

At the same time, our odds of being involved in an accident increase by 53% in responses and 184% during transports (not to mention accidents in our wake that do not involve an EMS unit). Furthermore, litigations that involve ambulance incidents are 86% when using L&S.

The data presented highlights concerning statistics surrounding the use of lights and sirens in EMS responses and transports. While time savings are evident, life-saving interventions are performed in only a small percentage of responses.

The increased risk of accidents during both responses and transports underscores the need for a shift towards safer practices. Litigations involving ambulance incidents predominantly occur when lights and sirens are used.

It is crucial to view the use of lights and sirens as a clinical treatment and to follow the guidance to "use only as needed" to ensure the safety of patients, the community, and EMS providers. Prioritizing safe ambulance operations is vital for everyone's well-being and to ensure a safe return home after each shift.

Further Reading:

Merrill, L. (2022) 14 Groups Issue Joint Statement on EMS Use Of lights, Sirens Accessed February 28, 2024

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (2022) Joint Statement on Lights & Siren Vehicle Operations on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Responses Accessed February 28, 2024

National EMS Quality Alliance (2024) Improving Safety in EMS: Reducing the Use of Lights and Siren Accessed February 28, 2024

Zavadsky, M. (2023) Culture Shift: Reducing Lights and Siren Vehicle Operation Accessed February 28, 2024

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