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Kansas City-area ambulance driver training highlights balance between speed, safety

Ambulance Training.jpg
Posted at 4:05 PM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-14 19:37:10-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Drivers behind the wheel of an ambulance know that seconds can make the difference between life or death. That pressure also presents a unique challenge, balancing getting to a scene quickly, but also safely.

It’s important because the I-Team uncovered an email detailing concerns about a Kansas City, Missouri employee driving an ambulance.

In the email from September of 2021, a paramedic told her supervisors about a “very serious and dangerous situation."

That same driver, Dominic Biscari, was behind the wheel of the KCFD pumper truck the night of a deadly Westport crash. Three people died after the pumper truck and SUV collided last December.

To get a better understanding of the training behind driving an ambulance and the balance between urgency and safety, the I-Team attended a training for a different department last month.

Recruits with the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department complete what’s called the emergency vehicle operator course or EVOC. On the course, recruits drive an ambulance.

The I-Team spoke with Andrew Porter, a KCKFD recruit, who is familiar with driving big vehicles. He owns a truck, but this was different.

“So I’m kind of used to it, but it’s definitely a bigger vehicle. More blind spots,” Porter said.

Porter got an idea of what it’s like to drive an ambulance.

Recruits have to get a Class B driver’s license. It allows them to drive a vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds.

The emergency vehicle operator course is meant to prepare Porter and other recruits for what they may face when responding to an emergency. They’re taught to drive within their means.

“Once you get out there, it can be kind of hard to see the cones because of how small they are. Just really got to take your time,” Porter said.

Recruits are also instructed to ease into turns, feather the brakes, and to not slam the accelerator.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Schaunaman explained the balance between speed and safety.

“I mean if we don’t get there, we’re not helping anybody out. So, there is that balance," Schaunaman said. "We gotta get there quickly. We gotta get there safely and with an ambulance here, if there’s a patient in the back, we also have to drive smoothly."

In the academy class, recruits not only drive the ambulance, but they ride in the back. It adds to the understanding of what it would be like to care for a patient.

“You don’t want to throw them around the ambulance or be real uncomfortable," Porter said. "If someone is in pain, the smoother our ride is, the less pain we’re going to cause while we’re getting them to the hospital."

The I-Team also spoke with Jake Wiens. He was in the passenger seat of the ambulance.

Before becoming a recruit, he lost his job in graphic design during the pandemic.

“I heard that there was a shortage of EMTs, paramedics, front line workers and I wanted to step up to the plate,” Wiens said.

When it comes to speed during an emergency, KCK Fire Department leaders said emergency vehicle drivers can disregard some laws like stop signs and stop lights. They can also go over the posted speed limit.

“However, we just have to do so where it’s not endangering lives or property. We all know that even though we’re asking for the right of way, it may not be given so we have to drive cautiously,” Schaunaman said.

In KCK, recruits also complete a fire truck simulator. The I-Team showed you that portion of the training in September.

The simulator gets recruits mentally prepared.

Before a firefighter becomes an extra driver of a fire truck, there are a few steps. In KCK, you have to be on the job more than a year, pass a series of tests, and get approval from supervisors.

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