Ambulance Drivers: Common Movie and Television Mistakes

Hollywood takes a lot of liberties with reality, and ambulance drivers are no exception. Typically referred to as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics, these individuals are known to be the first responders to medical emergencies. State and city laws technically determine the first responder. Some states require police officers to clear a scene first; others have EMTs or paramedics stationed on fire trucks. Whatever the case, Hollywood uses these roaming med techs as extras with very few lines, and these characters often make mistakes that even the average person will notice.

Common Mistakes

While there have been numerous inaccuracies in the portrayal of ambulance drivers in films and television, there are a few particular mistakes that stand out. A tourniquet is often placed on anyone that is bleeding. For a short term need, that may be appropriate, but as a general rule, this should be avoided. Tourniquets cut the blood supply to the limb, and if there is no blood supply, then the limb begins to rot. When blood is restored to the limb, the blood helps to push possible infection throughout the limb.

Freezing lost fingers or toes until they reach the hospital sounds like a good idea, but in reality, it is not the best bet. Freezing the appendage can actually cause cellular damage. Keeping it cool and clean are two of the most important issues.

Doctors apparently don't handle death very well in Hollywood. In television or movies, these doctors can take a pulse or look at someone, and they are able to determine if the person is dead. The pulse is no longer a valid way of determining if someone is dead, and neither is a visual diagnosis.

Specific Examples

The popular medical drama series, Bones, is not immune to Hollywood's misrepresentations. In the episode, "Mummy in the Maze," an EMT is shown administering drugs that can only be given by a paramedic. Is this a big deal? According to the UCLA's Center for Prehospital Care, it is a big deal. There is a difference between the duties and responsibilities of an EMT and a paramedic.

In Liam Neeson's film, Unknown, EMTs resuscitate his character using a defibrillator on a wet metal dock. Again, this is a big no-no. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute strongly recommends against this specific action. An automated external defibrillator (AED) should not be used on a person who is wet or on a surface that allows the conduction of electricity.

Hollywood portrays ambulance drivers as superhuman in some cases, and in others, they make the simplest of mistakes. However, people are watching and scrutinizing anything that is inaccurate. You can bet that those mistakes will find their way onto the Internet for the world to see.

Tags: healthcare, medical technology, Paramedics

Gabriel Knight

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