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Florida Fire Department Abandons Use of Backboards

The Palm Beach fire department has made a change to its operating procedure that will make any ride to the hospital much less painful. The Palm Beach County Fire Rescue used to make it standard operating procedure for crews to strap anyone that they suspected to have a neck or back injury onto a rigid backboard that immobilized the spine. But now, the fire department has changed its practices to make that difficult ride much easier.

Backboard Protocol

Even if there was a minimal chance that a person had any type of neck or spinal trauma, they were strapped onto a backboard. The backboard is made of rigid plastic with no give, meant to immobilize the spine. As a result, any bumps or jostling on the way to the emergency room in an ambulance could cause significant amounts of pain. For elderly patients, pressure sores (otherwise known as bedsores) can develop from the use of a backboard in as little as twenty to thirty minutes.

One hospital technician said that patients who came in on backboards often needed extra x-rays or tests because of the pain inflicted on the way to the emergency room. “Tortuous,” is the way that the chief of EMS for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue described it. Not only is securing a person to the backboard painful, but it does not really immobilize people. “They move around plenty, mostly because they are so uncomfortable.” Studies have shown that the practice also increases the average on-scene time of fire crews. However, as of September 1, 2014, the fire crews stopped using backboards for every situation.

Original Purpose of Backboards

The widespread use of rigid backboards first began in 1984, when the Department of Transportation decided to simplify its EMT training. It called for the spinal immobilization of almost all trauma patients because “there is probably no harm in doing it.” More departments and crews also starting using backboards because they were afraid of litigation by patients who claimed that they were not properly secured. The response by medical professionals to the lawsuits was to immobilize everyone in order to minimize risk.

New Regulations for Backboards

Now, patients that are taken to the hospital by a fire department ambulance will be traveling there in a comfortable, soft cot. “Nobody has ever been paralyzed as the result of not being backboarded, but a lot of people have felt pain and discomfort as the result of it.” Doctors have praised the department for its change in tactics, calling it “ahead of the curve” in moving away from the rigid backboards.

The department will still use backboards in specific situations. If a person has been ejected in a car or motorcycle accident over 20 mph or who needs to be airlifted in a helicopter will still be transported using the backboards. In addition, any situation where the EMT believes that there has been a significant spinal injury will also be secured to a backboard for transport to the hospital.

Call a Florida Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured more because of the use of a backboard in the West Palm Beach area, let the experienced personal injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates help. Call or contact the office for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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