(WHDH) – Ambulances put in park because of serious violations.
They can be the difference between life and death. But 7News found dozens of ambulances in Massachusetts in need of emergency care themselves.
“It’s a systemic problem,” said Guy Haskell, a longtime paramedic and expert in Emergency Medical Services.
7News dug through hundreds of pages of state inspection reports. We found ambulances with significant corrosion, body damage, and brake pads “… worn to bare metal.” Inside, missing supplies, expired medications, and life-saving equipment not working.
“That would be unacceptable anywhere, whether it’s in the hospital or it’s in a clinic,” Haskell said.
Inspectors also found a stethoscope held together with electrical tape, a rear door that wouldn’t stay closed, and even blood on a wall and on a device.
In one year, inspectors refused to let 44 ambulances back on the road until serious violations were corrected.
“You’re only as good as your equipment,” said Gerry Mahoney, Acting Chief of the Cambridge Fire Department.
In Cambridge, some fire trucks double as ambulances. But last year, inspectors found them short on medical supplies, and some life-saving equipment inside, broken.
Mahoney said it is concerning that some devices in the department’s units weren’t working.
“We take it very, very seriously,” Mahoney said.
An inspector snapped a picture of a bag of medications and supplies in one ambulance, and noted that “… virtually (the) entire bag was found to be expired.”
“There’s a difference between an excuse and an explanation. There is no excuse,” Mahoney said.
In Lynnfield, one 17-year-old ambulance had to be pulled off the road. Inspectors found significant corrosion in the floors and inadequate air conditioning where patients are treated.
“People’s lives depend on these ambulances, and we want to make absolutely sure we’re doing everything we possibly can,” said Mark Tetreault, Fire Chief of the Lynnfield Fire Department.
In Lynnfield and Cambridge, the fire chiefs say everything was fixed quickly – much of it, the same day. Both chiefs assured 7News that their ambulances were safe for the transport of patients.
But Tetreault said that his department’s aging ambulance was scheduled to be replaced six months ago. Due to budget constraints, a replacement won’t arrive until later this year.
Haskell said that’s typical of public ambulance services, which are often short on funding. Still, he said vehicle maintenance has to be their top priority.
“If we can’t get to you safely, and can’t take you where you need to go safely, then we all have a problem,” Haskell said.
The Massachusetts Ambulance Association tells 7News that ambulances with violations represent a “small percentage” of the more than 2,000 ambulances in our state, and that very few violations result in any danger to patients.
In a statement, the MAA also said that it works closely with state regulators “to ensure the quality of care provided to our patients.”
It also states, “As one of the country’s most active state ambulance associations, we offer EMS providers monthly discussions and education on fleet maintenance and operational topics. MAA would also like to call to your attention the many private Ambulance services in Massachusetts which have obtained the ‘gold-standard’ CAAS accreditation. In few other areas would you find such a sterling, nearly across-the-board commitment to professional standards. The top priority of the MAA and its members is the safety of our patients and crews.”
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