Backing In

I was in a parking garage over the weekend when my exit was held up by a woman in a SUV who took about five minutes to make all he turns necessary to back into a parking space. I was thinking why not just drive in straight? Why do you have to be parked for the quick getaway? It can’t be harder to back out then it is to back in.

While watching this and shaking my head, I was reminded of many times over the years, I have been driven lights and sirens hurtling through traffic to provide light-saving care (or not) to people who called 911 in distress, only to have to wait while my partner executed the same multiple turns to back into the driveway for the planned getaway.

This has never made sense to me. We drive lights and sirens for one reason — to get to the patient more quickly. We drive to the call with lights and sirens far more than we drive away lights and sirens. So why do we delay arriving in order to park the car for the getaway when we seldom need the quick departure? Why not just drive in straight and back out later after the emergency is over?

I have wanted to write about this for awhile and since now I am either in a fly car or have partner du jour, I run no risk of offending any current partner.

I am mild-mannered and easy-going. If something bothers me, I tend to not let it show. But now after all these years, here it is: Park the damn ambulance already!


  • Greg Friese says:

    On a similar note I have always wondered why after driving lights and sirens we don’t grab the gear and sprint from the ambulance to the patient. To answer my own question … because sprinting is difficult, sprinting while carrying 40 pounds of gear would be really hard, it would look pretty silly, it would almost always be unnecessary, and it could be really dangerous.

  • Truckie says:

    Which way you park in some ones driveway is determined by sight lines. If its a nice open area with light traffic and few pedestrians pulling in is fine. If its congested has lots of foot traffic or there is buildings, trees or god knows what else you should probably back in. You have a partner to back you in when you arrive not when your leaving. If your sight lines are obstructed you are essentially backing out into a road 10-14 feet blind. Its all part of that scene size up thing that we are supposed to be doing.

  • Turbosinaboy says:

    I would tell… “why don’t you get off the ambulance and run to the door?, you don’t have to wait for me to park the ambulance”.
    I mean, I have even parked in a second row blocking the whole street when I knew it was needed to get on scene (really) fast, even ignoring all the pissed off drivers behind us. But I have also taken my time to look for a parking space, or letting the wife/husband/son/daughter move therir car to clear the front driveway. Maybe it’s about the kind of city or neighborhood linked to the call. But, I must say, I like to park backing in, so I can get a clear getaway when I leave, believe it or not, is easier to fit backwards in a crowded space.

  • ghettomedic says:

    Try working in violent prone neighborhoods and you will understand. Plus the points already mentioned.

  • 1. I’d rather load the patient on a downward angle than an upward angle.

    2. Why not just pull up to the curb and park in the street, including blocking the driveway if need be?

  • Bob says:

    How about just learning how to back the dam ambulance I had one partner thta took longer to back into a 40 foot yard than it did for me to back up a forty foot tractor -trailor it is a skill that is not taught

  • stuart says:

    I guess it depends on the situation. I, too, have wondered sometimes why we are spending so much time doing it. However, most of the time it makes things easier for all involved to back it in.

    I have had a couple calls where things went south quickly, and I told my partner to just stop….we left it sitting on the street so we could get inside in time.

  • Sally says:

    do any of u guys have EVOC!? just wondering! To many times people die bc of stupid decisions like parking! take off the blinders guys! Its a human life. Thank you Bubby Bish and Ric Pace for showing me how to park where to park in a violent scene and most of how to back up correctly !

  • Nancy m says:

    I always try to drive in to where I can drive out. That said, backing in generally makes it easier to load the patient and ensure not backing over whomever may be hanging around the back of the truck (trust me)on the way out, when you no longer have a spotter available.

  • medic4ever says:

    i don’t always back in, but when i do it’s because the you would most likely be loading and unloading the stretcher in a safe and protected area and allows for an unimpeded get out if the pt. is really sick. i’d rather take the minimal amount of time to back in then have to get out in a hurry which is an accident waiting to happen.

  • 40lizard says:

    as a newbie driver here’s a few points to ponder-

    1. In my EVOC course we were taught to back straight in a line- no fine manuevering skills taught- my FTO taught me!

    2. Hate backing in on a scene unless necessary- no available spotters usually and in our system we have cheater boxes that monitor that.

    3. I try to park at the end of the driveway so that we roll right down to the back of the truck- makes life much easier!

    Now having said all that- its a 50-50 crapshoot kind of thing all the way round! Happy Driving everyone! 🙂

  • medicscribe says:

    Good point, Greg. I have had partners wheezing so bad just from the exertion of climbing four flights of stairs, I have felt the urge to treat them before the patient. I actually did have a partner once who used to pop nitro while doing carrydowns. We each need to find the speed that allows to arrive at the patient quickly while still being capable of doing our jobs. Same with lights and sirens, arrive safely.

  • medicscribe says:

    Great points, Truckie.

  • medicscribe says:

    Thanks for the comments, Turbosinaboy. I tell you there have been times, I have had enough and just hopped out. I do like what you are saying about looking for a space. It all depends on the call of course.

  • medicscribe says:

    I have found in the violent neighborhoods we usually just park in the street because for one there are not many driveways and two at an explosive scene you best not be dawdling to get to the patient if you care for your safety, PD on scene or not.

  • medicscribe says:

    Hi Joe-

    I agree with you completely on these two points.

  • medicscribe says:

    Hi Bob- You and I may have had the same partner! Driver training is sorely neglected in some services.

  • medicscribe says:

    Hi Stuart. “It depends…” was the title of a lecture a doctor friend of mine once gave and it is the perfect way to answer any medical or EMS related question. I agree with your points.

  • medicscribe says:

    EVOC should be required, not just in the commercial and fire services (and some volunteer) where it is now routinely taught, but in all EMS services. Putting a person with no real driver training behind the wheel of a big box ambulance and having them drive lights and sirens and then back into a narrow driveway is asking for trouble.

  • medicscribe says:

    Good points, Nancy.

  • medicscribe says:

    I agree loading in a protected area is important consideration. thanks for the comments.

  • medicscribe says:

    You may be a newbie driver, 40lizard, but these excellent points. thanks.

  • medicscribe says:

    Thanks to everyone for the great comments.

    First off, let me say, I have no issue with drivers who can execute a quick efficient backup. When done well, it is a thing of beauty. My old partner Arthur was so good at it, you never ever realized he was backing up, usually because I was so captivated by his running commentary on all the idiot drivers out there as well as intoxicated by the smell of burning brakes, to be aware we were now on scene.

    I was speaking more of the partner who takes five minutes to do a simple backup, while you beat your head against the dashboard, the partner who has knocked down more mailboxes than a snowplow operator, the partner who you finally say, “Just stop a minute and let me out!”

    Still, I do find it odd that we devote so much to response time — posting and system status management and lights and sirens to way too many calls, and then we put out on scene as we arrive, but in some cases spend an excessive amount of time preparing for our departure before we have even gotten to the patient we rushed (and risked our safety in that even a cautios L-S response has dangers inherent in it) to get too.

  • emt.dan says:

    I’d much rather use (or have available) my partner to back in when arriving on scene then when leaving, when they are likely to be busy with patient care. We usually leave the keys in the truck when fire is on scene, and they are often nice enough to move the truck for us.

  • Student Paramed says:

    Although I’m a chick with terrible spacial awareness, I reverse park like a pro. It’s not that hard to learn (if I can do it, a drunk, ill-trained monkey can), all you need is time, patience and a vehicle. I find it easier than driving forward into a park and if you’re parked on a drive way it’s easier to get the stretcher in and out of the truck. Next time you’re riding with a crappy backer, set out a couple of traffic cones and make them practice. If they can’t even back a car, practice reverse parking next to a shop window. Use your reflection to help you back. It’s the best parking cheat ever!

  • haphazard says:

    In support of backing in. … As you are pulling up to the address, you can see what is on the street both in front of you and behind you. If there are no other vehicles moving in the driveway, now would be the best time to back in. If you pull in, there is a good chance other responders (police, fire, ems supervisors) could park in positions to make backing out a little difficult.

  • Nik says:

    I can’t speak for medics/EMTs anymore, since I haven’t been one in 25 years. That said I’ve got a decade’s experience driving an SUV, and I back in wherever I can, when it’s safe to do so. Rear visibility is almost non-existent immediately behind the truck — so if there are no kids in the vicinity when I arrive, I back in.

    That way, no matter how crowded, I have the best possible visibility when I leave. Added bonus: if someone parks a very large truck directly behind me, in a tight lot or parking garage, I have an easier time getting out.

    All that said, I know how to back my truck in, so I pull up, put it in reverse and back in, in one smooth movement. Rarely do I have pull forward to straighten the truck out or move it sideways in the space.

  • Rogue Medic says:

    I prefer to back in, because there is someone to assist with backing, if necessary.

    When leaving, backing out where pedestrians and vehicles are moving about behind me is far from ideal.

    The bigger problem is people who do not think about where they are parking and what problems they might encounter getting equipment out of the vehicle, getting people in and out of the vehicle, and interfering with other vehicles – including non-emergency vehicles.

    I am always amazed at the police/fire/EMS drivers who pull vehicles with no fire suppression capability right up in front of the building on fire. We end up blocked in, while we are preventing fire from placing their vehicles the way they want to.

    Few people drive well. In EMS, we seem to think that being occasionally exempted from some laws makes us exempt from all laws and from common courtesy in traffic.

    The only reason to run on a scene is to run away from trouble.