Ambulance lights act as a warning for surrounding cars, traffic, and pedestrians. Signaling the urgency of the situation, a living patient will have a better chance of survival with ambulance lights switched on.
Despite common misconceptions that lights are turned off when an ambulance transports a non-breathing person, the on-off decision is situation-dependent. This article explores the considerations ambulance paramedics have when sending a deceased patient to the hospital.
Seasoned paramedics and EMTs will surely have had the experience of transporting a patient to a hospital and suddenly hear the flat-line alarm. As patients must be hooked onto a cardiac monitor, such victims having cardiac issues will have their ECG (or EKG) constantly monitored throughout the trip. The flat-line alarm sounds when their cardiac rhythm detects the irregularity indicating that that the patient has died.
Situational assessment by the ambulance team concludes with a brief idea on (1) the chances of survival and (2) quality of life if the patient survives. Should the probability of recovery be high but the quality of life after revival be low, the team might cease resuscitation. Continuing CPR chest compressions in such a situation is against many medical consensus. This is because most patients in such a situation are old and have brittle bones. Pumping the heart by pressing on the chest will break the ribcage bones, which are unlikely to naturally mend (even with the help of orthopedic surgery). When the decision is made to discontinue life support, resuscitation ends. Then, the ambulance lights will switch off to indicate non-urgency and non-emergency. The departed casualty, categorised “dead on arrival”, is still fetched to the hospital.
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A verified Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order is an additional consideration for rescue workers. A DNR order is legal document that dictates the wishes of the patient and/or family that the patient will not want to be saved if the medical situation turns critical. This effectively stops rescue & evacuation as ambulance officers will no longer be allowed to revive him. True in many cities, DNR orders are legal and binding. Even doctors are not permitted to perform medical work against this written intent.
Since DNR orders prevents urgent medical rescue work, medical teams are left with few options. Usually, paramedics give oxygen and apply the blanket to keep the patient warm and comfortable. This is called comfort care. Within minutes, many patients expire and are pronounced dead. Without breathing and pulse indications, ambulances will turn off the lights.
Dispatchers will recall ambulances when the call for help is canceled. For non-emergency response, such as returning to headquarters, the hospital, or a fire station, ambulance drivers shall be required to turn off their blinker lights. Ambulance lights will also be switched off if the ambulance is en route to respond to an incident and information relayed from the caller on-site that the patient had died before the ambulance arrived.
Ambulances continue to illuminate their blue flashing lights until they reach the hospital, but may dim them to reduce light pollution within the hospital compound. Emergency vehicles do not need to attract unnecessary attention minutes away from their destination. So, with emergency lights dipped down and faintly faded, an ambulance will enter the parking lot or drive up to loading dock.
Ultimately, there is no certain answer to this question as it is situation-dependent. Lights remain illuminated when the situation is acute, critical and high priority. Lights are cut off when not medically necesary. When transporting a dead patient, the ambulance lights are turned off completely.
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This post was last modified on March 17, 2021 6:12 pm