MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Are Memphians getting too big for their britches? More specifically, are they getting too big for their ambulances?
In March 2012, abc24.com introduced you to the city’s first bariatric ambulance, equipped with special stretchers and hoists for obese patients.
There has been so much demand for that unit the Memphis Fire Department is considering adding another to its fleet.
“Yeah, there is a need,” said Assistant Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, who's in charge of emergency services for the city. “There’s a possibility we’re thinking of putting a second one into operation.”
The bariatric units handle only very large patients.
“This stretcher can hold up to 1000 pounds,” said Memphis firefighter Rodger McGee.
Some stretchers handle even more; a new stretcher in Memphis can handle people weighing up to 1600 pounds.
“When we put this in service,” McGee told abc24.com, “the City of Memphis definitely needed it.”
The Memphis Fire Department responds to more than 300 calls a day, on average; but just two a day for obese patients.
On the surface that doesn’t sound like much, but because of protocols, it is.
“This crew is out of service for long periods of time because they go with the bariatric ambulance to where it needs to be deployed, then to the hospital,” Ludwig explained.
McGee added, “If this thing is out then another patient calls he would have to wait; that just delays care.”
The original bariatric unit is stationed in Midtown Memphis; a second would go east to share the load.
“The domino effect,” Ludwig said, “is we’re going to have more use of the bariatric ambulance.”
On the surface it would be easy to conclude there are too many overweight people needing medical care in Memphis.
“Sometimes we may have to take a wall out in order to get a patient out,” McGee said.
Ludwig doesn’t agree that Memphis has more than its fair share of obese patients.
“It is not necessarily, in my opinion, a reflection of Memphis as much as a reflection of that type of person and what they experience as a whole,” Ludwig said.
Patient safety is the number one concern when it comes to using the bariatric ambulance. But, firefighter safety is almost as important.
Prior to putting the ambulance online, back injuries to emergency responders happened frequently. Since acquiring the first bariatric unit, Chief Ludwig said there has not been a single back injury.