Nelson’s Corey Viala (right) and Robert Howland were key players in the newly designed ambulances that will be added to the BC fleet.

Changes to better health care in the Kootenays

An ambulance that rolled into Nelson this month was one of the most extensively redesigned emergency vehicles in 15 years.

A brand new ambulance that rolled into Nelson this month was one of the most extensively redesigned emergency response vehicles on the road in 15 years.

Local paramedic Corey Viala was a key figure on a four-person committee that led the revamp. The provincial safety director with the Ambulance Paramedics of BC teamed up with Robert Howland, fleet superintendent, who delivered the ambulance to Nelson in early July.

“This is going to change how paramedics are going to do business in the back of the car,” said Viala. “I am excited about this. I like to keep my people as safe as possible.”

Often change comes with trepidation, but this time paramedics are begging for their new cars. The fact they’re excited is gratifying for Viala who put extensive energy into this two-year long process. For him, the process was all about respecting ideas coming to him and feeling the ideas he put forward were equally valued.

“It was an honour to be on this committee,” he said.

“They listened to what I had to say and I appreciated that a lot.”

The core committee invited paramedics to give input, ran workshops and sat down with their colleagues making sure that all ages, levels of experience, height and gender were included.

“We made sure we took a really good mix,” said Viala

Questioning the “way it’s always been,” wasted space, access to the patient and equipment and functionality were considered with over 100 changes, big and small, finally being made.

Modifications included taking out the impractical bench seat in the back of the car that made for awkward access to the patient and gear. A swivel chair replaced it allowing for more range of motion, better face-to-face access to the patient and increased safety with the paramedic being able to reach more while keeping on their seatbelt.

Simple changes like putting light switches and oxygen access by the rear door and better steps into the vehicle for older patients in particular were also made.

“It may sound simple but these things make a huge difference,” Viala said.

Viala is particularly excited about his idea of running the heat ducts through a cupboard at the back of the ambulance. This makes use of existing energy to heat spinal boards and clamshells that are often uncomfortably cold for the patient.

Making use of new technologies allows for the back-up camera to alternatively show the driver what’s going on inside the back of the car. This means increased safety. And modern electronics allow for use of equipment on battery power instead of idling the vehicle for reduced fuel consumption.

Howland and Viala went so far as to spend time with the engineers of Demers Ambulances headquartered near Montreal to make sure mockups matched their vision. Half-inch adjustments inside a test vehicle were made and they participated in performance testing.

Howland was encouraged to hear feedback from Demers, a world-class maker of ambulances for 50 years.

“They were impressed with our ideas and the thoroughness of the BC Ambulance Service’s process,” he said.

Added Viala, “That was a nice compliment to the whole system of what we did.”

Fifty new ambulances will be on the road this year with another 50 coming in 2014. There are 500 active ambulances in the province of BC that travel about 21 million kilometres a year. BC has the largest fleet in Canada.