The ambulance at my station is 7 tons of beautiful Freightliner/Mercedes/American Lefrance metal. It's probably one of the biggest "gut buckets" ever to grace the roads of my jurisdiction and every other Friday night, It's mine!
I've gotten qualified as a driver for the ambulance. This is especially relevant in a volunteer station like mine where qualified drivers are scarce. Even more scarce are qualified drivers who would be glad to drive the ambulance vs. ride on the fire engine to a fire call.
This means that, with a few exceptions, when I arrive at the Firehouse, I'm the Ambo Driver. Kind of silly for someone with 3 years of schooling, a degree in prehospital emergency medicine and a certified Paramedic. But, that's how it goes in my silly, backwards jurisdiction.
Let me tell you about driving this thing...
The bell rings and the printer spits out a paper. Off we go.
Climb up into the driver's seat. The bottom of the seat is about chest-height on me when I'm standing on the floor. I'm 6'4", or 2 meters tall, that's some altitude! On my way up to that lofty seat, I turn on the battery, click over the ignition so the 300+ HP engine can warm up before starting and hit the button to open the door to let the ambulance out.
While the door trundles its way up, I turn over the engine. Bean and I put on headsets. These serve to cut out the outrageous amount of noise from the ambulance, sirens and air horns and enable us to hear each other and the radio.
I hit the button to turn on the "lights" or flashing beacons that tell all the idiots in the world that we're on our way to an emergency. Meanwhile, Bean has "marked up" or notified dispatch that we are en-route.
I press the button marked "D" for drive, push in the huge air-brake button and 7 tons of emergency transport vehicle lurches forward against my foot brake.
"HeadSets! SeatBelts!" I yell to Bean and anyone who has happened to hop into the back. Once I confirm that everone is belted and I can talk to them, off we go!
Well, we roll out the door and I pause long enough to close the bay door with the remote. Then it's siren, steering and looking in four directions at once.
When you drive your car, you point the wheel where you want to go. You steer from the front of your vehicle or from what's in front of you.
When you're driving a vehicle that is 9 feet wide (3 meters), almost 30 feet long (9 meters) and over 7 tons (6500 kilograms), you drive from the rear wheels to the side mirrors to 1/4 of a mile ahead of you. And you do it all very fast!
I've learned to look at my old neighborhood in terms of where my ambulance will fit, when I need to start my turn to get onto that street and what houses are best accessed from the back vs the front. After having driven boats and ships in the Coast Guard, an ambulance of this size is not much different. Except people tend to ignore you more (that's for another post).
So, yeah. There is a LOT of fun in driving 7 tons of aluminum and steel at outrageous speeds while legally violating traffic laws. But that's not the best part.
The best part is pulling up to the local coffee shop. In the fire lane. Behind the mercedes that is illegally parked so someone doesn't have to walk the extra 10 feet.
(Cycle the siren "Bweeeeooowww!") "Hey man! This is a fire lane. You can't park here!" Bean and I hold our hands out to our sides, palms up as if we're saying, "See?"
Mercedes-man gets a dark look on his face and goes back to his $65,000 car like a 5-year-old caught in the act. He parks in a regular space.
Just to prove a point, so do I!
Inside the coffee shop:
"Did you just chase that guy out of the fire lane?"
"Well, I guess I did."
Suddenly, breakfast is free!