Being practical, I spent the ‘winter term’ of my freshman year in college earning an EMT Basic certification in lieu of studying ‘Religiosity in the Simpsons’. My idea was to both increase my earning power during summers through learning a skill and to do something useful. After busting my ass for a month in a compressed course while friends in the dorms pulled all night benders, I passed the simple exam and started volunteering for the rural county EMS provider. That gave me the chance to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of Ford Econolines including a late 80s 460-powered Type II (van body) bruiser back-up bus (you may have seen this at Putnam Park), a 7.3L naturally aspirated Type III (box-type) diesel, and a pair of 7.3L ‘Powerstroke’ turbodiesel Type IIIs. All had well in excess of 150,000 miles. None were cosmetically pretty. All were in reasonable mechanical repair.
After going through an Emergency Vehicle Operators Course – consisting of watching a video – and driving around on a wet high school parking lot forwards and backwards with a senior Paramedic, I was deemed qualified to operate a 5 ton truck capable of pushing 100 miles with lights, sirens, and an air horn at the ripe age of 18. Naturally, I drove as much as I could: emergency responses, 120-mile round-trip patient transports to regional medical centers, in conditions ranging from a sedate transport on beautiful spring days to emergency transports in the midsts of hellacious storms so rotten helicopters couldn’t fly. Since I was paired with a full-time Paramedic, I’d ride in the back about half the time, depending on the patient’s condition. That also meant I was the guy driving when the patient’s life literally hung in the balance and OTIF delivery to a trauma center 60 miles away would determine whether someone went home alive.
The old Econoline was a noisy, wandering, bouncy, uncomfortable steed with hot, cramped footwells, weak AC, and suspension tuning that would give you nausea from repeated jolts to the front wheels. At speed, the losing combination of a drag coefficient approaching the percentage of Millenial males unfit for military service and a complete lack of suspension travel made high speed work simply terrifying. It required micro-movements to keep the thing straight and huge corrections when the nose started wandering around. No brake or steering feel, either.
Why the hell does this matter in an ambulance? Because when some asshole doesn’t see a huge ambulance with dozens of flashing lights and 200 watts of blaring siren and therefore pulls out in front of you, or in those fortunately rare times when seconds really do count and you’re driving down an ice-covered interstate as fast as possible to get to a scene, you need to know what’s going on with the vehicle in order to arrive alive and avoid creating your own bus crash.
With bad memories of “American” style vans in mind, I pulled into Enterprise to pick up a 15-passenger van for a week-long adults-only vacation in Charleston with my wife and 6 other good friends. I was the designated driver for the 850 mile jaunt.