Actual conversation between me and my partner a few years ago right after receiving an emergency call:
Me: “Lemme get this on the map… I think it’s South of us. Head South… Southeast! Yeah, it’s Southeast of us”
Her: “Whattaya mean Southeast!? I don’t know directions. You’ll have to tell me Left or Right!”
Me: < Scanning the map> “Um… Ok, we’re heading North, so make a Right up here on River Drive and head to Mulford. The street is right off of State and Mulford, one West and two South”
Her: “It’s what?”
Me: “Just head to State and Mulford and I’ll get ya in”
Remember that? Remember those days when we used to use paper maps? I do. Man, those days were crazy… back when we had to use those archaic things, right?
Actual conversation between me and a different partner in the much more recent past while driving to an emergency call:
Me: “Dang it! The GPS won’t get satellite signal! I can’t lock in the address”
Him: “Where do I turn? What street is it off of?”
Me: “Hang on, I’ll try to look up the address from my phone… Gah! Why is the connection so slow!?”
Him: “I’m going to turn down this street… what was the address again??”
Me: “Um… I think it was… 432 Mulberry… I think… Don’t we have a paper map in this truck???”
Him: “I didn’t see one. Maybe I can get the address on my phone.”
Me: “Wait, is that a cop up ahead? I think he’s at the call, drive up there.”
Cop: “Hey! What took you guys so long!?”
Ain’t modern technology great?
It was only a few years ago that we got GPS machines in the ambulances I ran in. Previous to that we had survived off of our “Stacy Maps” which were these awesome map books designed by a local company. They weren’t sexy or technologically sufficient for the times… but they always got the job done if you knew how to use them. Sure, they were hard to read by yourself if you were the only one navigating the truck, but they worked… every time. No outside force could stop them from working. If you had one, you weren’t lost, period.
Now, with our increasing reliance on the magic voice in the GPS box (I call my GPS voice Ms. Kitty) we seem to be able to get to our calls seamlessly and smoothly… 90% of the time. There are times when the GPS doesn’t work, times when it’s just too darn slow, and times when it doesn’t have an address to lock in to. The GPS just isn’t always optimized for emergency response. I’ve found that my GPS is great when I am dispatched to 9933 Harrison St as a physical address… but not so much when I’m dispatched to “The bike path in the field behind Costco off of the side road next to the blue house”.
I remember a call I got once when I was working a relief shift at a contracted rural station. We had just cleared a call from a downtown hospital when the service got a call for a nasty auto wreck out in the country. Their dispatch asked us to respond as the third ambulance. I usually worked in the city the hospital was in so I knew how bad the regular routes were clogged with construction, being as it was summer in the Midwest. I drove and was able to use my knowledge of the city to get us around every bit of it. I took State St to Prospect, Prospect to Guilford, Guilford to Highcrest, Highcrest to Springcreek, Springcreek to Springbrook, Springbrook to Perryville, to… well, you get the idea. I was able to bob and weave through that city so much that we arrived at the scene in record time… which was just in time to be cancelled and sent back to quarters.
What I’m saying is that I knew the city so well because I had been forced to learn how to navigate it by reading paper maps. A skill that sadly, I’m afraid we’re losing as we increase our reliance on the magic directional box and the voices inside of it. GPS is a great tool, but since a huge part of our effectiveness as EMS people is actually being able to arrive at an address in a timely manner, it can’t be our only tool to find one. If you're relying on your GPS as the only tool you have to find the address of an emergency call, you're turning your GPS machine into a life-safety device. I'm sure the manufacturer will agree that It was never intended to be one of those.
My advice is to learn to love your paper maps. Read them. Study them as much as you study your medical protocols. Drive around your wider response area without turning on your GPS. Get lost in it every now and then and try to find your way around. Be sure to pay attention to the hundred blocks, the street names, and the short cuts. Don’t become clueless when Ms. Kitty takes a coffee break.
For more of my “You Kids Get Off My Lawn!!” ramblings, you may want to check out “Those Darn Kids!”