Anatomy of an ambulance

A jogger collapses, his face ashen and pulse absent.

A passer-by with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training pumps his chest, while a nearby automated emergency defibrillator is brought to the site.

Someone calls 995 and paramedics soon arrive at the scene.

The orange-and-white beast in which they arrive is one of the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) newest sixth-generation ambulances, which has been operational since 2017.

Chosen for its compactness as much as its load-bearing ability, the ambulance is based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, a commercial van, and modified with the help of local firm Indeco Engineers.

On-board equipment includes a defibrillator-cum-vital-signs monitor, a mechanical CPR device, oxygen tanks, airway maintenance devices and a refrigerator for medication.

The ambulance is also equipped with a raft of special features.

The patient compartment allows for the easy movement of crew and everything they need is within reach. The patient is laid on a height-adjustable platform.

Paramedics have a workstation built around their seat. Medication and key equipment are secured along wall shelves.

On the road, the vehicle emits not just a siren, but also low, reverberating tones that can be felt as much as heard via a device called the “Rumbler”.

It runs on run-flat tyres, with active safety features such as collision avoidance, lane-keeping and parking assistance.

There are airbags all round. Last year, the vehicles were fitted with pneumatic steps at the driver and passenger doors.

To cope with the 1,600kg weight penalty over the standard Sprinter van, the SCDF ambulance has air suspension. Its drivetrain, however, is unmodified.

It gets a 2,143cc four-cylinder diesel with two turbochargers making 163hp and 360Nm of torque from 1,400rpm. This is paired with a seven-speed autobox to drive the rear wheels.

Based on experience from previous pandemics such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome and H1N1, the ambulances do not require special modification for Covid-19 use.

Even in pre-pandemic times, all surfaces and equipment are wiped down after every trip. But now, they are also sprayed down with a special decontaminating mist.

Each ambulance has at least a crew of three: a paramedic, an emergency medical technician (EMT) who assists, and another EMT who doubles as driver.

All Highway Code regulations apply, with only two exceptions – ambulances can use road shoulders and are exempt from red traffic lights when it is safe and necessary. They cannot exceed speed limits.

Last year, the SCDF responded to 191,468 calls for emergency medical services, 2.1 per cent more than in 2018. Regrettably, 9.2 per cent of the calls turned out to be non-emergencies or false alarms.

The public is advised to dial 1777, and not 995, for non-emergency cases.

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