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20 Types Of Ambulance Explained (Complete Guide)

20 Types Of Ambulance Explained (Complete Guide)

The ambulance has become a common feature of our modern society for the transportation of sick or injured people to medical facilities, treatment of victims on the scene, or even to take medical care to a patient. There are many different types of ambulances other than the ones we typically see on our urban streets.
Ambulances come in a variety of designs and levels of medical care they can provide for various types of emergencies. Ambulances can be made for rough terrain, to navigate congested streets or cross continents. They can be cars, trucks, boats, aircraft, or any type of vehicle the situation demands.

There is always a need for a vehicle to transport the sick, injured, elderly, or infirm patients to medical facilities or to take medical care to people at the scene of a disaster, accident, public event, or remote location. This need has resulted in a wide variety of ambulances being developed with special characteristics to get appropriate medical care to people in many different circumstances.

Isolation Ambulance

In our modern technological age, people are working in laboratories, chemical plants, nuclear power plants, and industrial plants where they can be exposed to any number of toxic and potentially hazardous substances. Transporting people that have been exposed to these substances and also people who are suffering from an outbreak of a highly infectious disease require a very special ambulance for their transportation and care.

An isolation ambulance is equipped to deal with transporting patients that require isolation due to their exposure to dangerous chemicals, radiation, or highly contagious diseases. These ambulances will be sealed units that have bio and chemical filters and are manned by emergency personnel trained to deal with these types of emergencies.

The ambulance crew would need to be familiar with protocols for handling these emergencies and will often be working in hazmat or hazardous material protective suits to protect themselves from infection or contamination.

First Responder Ambulance

Many ambulances are large vehicles because of the extensive amount of medical equipment and crew and patients that they need to convey. Because of their size, they are also relatively slow vehicles, and it may take time for them to get to a disaster or accident scene where urgent medical care is required.

A first responder ambulance is a smaller vehicle that is fast and can negotiate smaller spaces and high-density traffic with greater ease than a large ambulance. The crew of the first responder ambulance will have limited and more compact gear, but they would get on scene faster and begin treatment of patients sooner.

The first responder crew will start treatment of patients and stabilize them until the larger ambulances can arrive on the scene with more advanced medical equipment and the capacity to transport people to a medical facility.

Some first responder ambulances have the capability to transport a single patient to a medical facility, but others are not constructed for patient transportation but rather to get a medical professional to the patient quickly to begin emergency care.

Advanced Life Support Ambulance

An advanced life support ambulance is the type of ambulance that will be dispatched to care for critically ill or injured patients. Patients that have life-threatening conditions will require specialized care during their transportation to an appropriate medical facility.

An advanced life support ambulance is sometimes called a mobile ICU because it has very advanced medical equipment on board to treat a wide range of life-threatening conditions and critically ill patients.

The crew on an ALS ambulance will also have advanced medical training on how to treat these types of patients with serious medical conditions and how to use the advanced medical equipment onboard the ambulance. They will also be qualified to administer a larger range of life-saving drugs and medications than crews on other types of ambulances.

Basic Life Support Ambulance

If the medical emergency that requires an ambulance to treat and transport a patient is a non-life-threatening emergency, then a basic life support ambulance is the most likely type of ambulance that will be sent to the scene to assess and treat the patient and transport them to a medical facility.

A basic life support ambulance will have the equipment onboard the vehicle to treat patients with limited medical conditions. These can be minor traumas such as cuts, bruising, broken bones, and non-life-threatening conditions such as basic respiratory distress, dehydration, post-operative patients, low degree burns, and sickness that requires transport to a medical facility.

The crews on a basic life support ambulance will be well trained, but not to the same degree as the crew that mans an advanced life support ambulance. The crew on a basic life support ambulance will be able to control minor to medium bleeding, prepare patients with broken bones for transportation, administer oxygen, and administer a limited amount of medicine to patients, mostly for pain relief.

The medical crew of a basic life support ambulance may assess a patient they are called out to, and if they deem it necessary, they may request an advanced life support ambulance to be dispatched to transport the patient. The crew will then give supportive medical care to the patient until the advanced life support ambulance arrives.

MVA Ambulance – Multiple Victim Assistance

An MVA or multiple victim assistance ambulance is the typical ambulance that you will see in attendance at public events. Public venues such as music concerts, festivals, conferences, and sporting events.

An MVA ambulance will have limited medical equipment on board the vehicle, but it will be well-stocked to provide medical assistance for cuts, bruises, sporting injuries, bee stings and other insect bites, treatment of broken bones, and assessment of patient injuries. They will be well-stocked with bandages and gauze and similar types of first aid equipment to treat a large number of people at an event.

These vehicles are more like first aid stations rather than for the provision of life support for major trauma, injuries, or illnesses. The crew of these vehicles may only have training in advanced first aid and the ability to assess a patient and request a higher-level treatment ambulance if necessary.

Patient Transport Ambulance

Sometimes an ambulance is needed to transport a patient that is recovering from surgery or who is very weak, or who cannot be transported in a normal car because of their injury or medical condition. These patients do not need any major medical care during their transportation but rather a comfortable means to get to and from a medical facility.

A patient transport ambulance will have very little onboard the ambulance for the treatment of severely ill patients. They would most likely only transport the minimum requirements for the comfort of the patient, such as oxygen for breathing support and other medical equipment for non-life-threatening medical conditions.
The crew on these ambulances will generally have advanced first aid training rather than EMT, paramedic, basic or advanced life support training. The main function of this type of ambulance is to provide safe transportation to the ill, elderly, or infirm who have no other means to get to a hospital or a different facility for their treatment.

Transport of patients to dialysis facilities, inter-hospital transfers, and similar types of patient transportation is the main role of these vehicles.

Neonatal Ambulance

Pregnant mothers are sometimes caught by surprise with the delivery of their baby. Sometimes the baby will decide to come when the mother is out at the mall, at the cinema, or driving on the road to the hospital. Births do not always go as planned, and sometimes the baby may be premature, and the birth process has started too soon.
In these instances, a neonatal ambulance is required to attend to the delivery and to the health care of the baby after the birth. A neonatal ambulance will be fitted out with all the necessary equipment to take care of a newborn baby that is in distress. This includes equipment of an appropriate size to use on a baby and also an incubator onboard the vehicle.

A neonatal ambulance may also be required to transport the mother to the hospital as well, so some of these types of ambulances will have space for the mother as well.
Neonatal ambulances are also used to transport newborns to specialist hospitals for specialist care for illnesses or physical problems that have occurred as a result of the birth or after the birth.

Ambulance Bus

Some natural disasters or manmade disasters that cause injury to a large number of patients simultaneously or an outbreak of illness that affects a group of people will require mass medical transportation.

Bus ambulances are often used at these types of scenes, where earthquakes, storms, building collapses, or similar events have occurred and injured many people. Bus ambulances can take sitting wounded or ill patients, and some also have locations to take patients in the prone position on gurneys in designated locations on the bus.
The crew on these types of bus ambulances will be trained to treat trauma patients and give them supportive medical care while they are being transported to an appropriate medical facility. Given that these types of vehicles are used for major disasters, the crew would be trained to handle a wide range of medical conditions, from physical injuries to illnesses.

Bariatric Ambulance

Our modern society and lifestyle have resulted in a large portion of the population being very large, even severely obese. Transporting large people with medical issues has proven to be a challenge for traditional ambulances. They do not have the internal capacity or the right gurneys to be able to transport these people safely.
A bariatric ambulance has been modified to carry very large people. They have extra width inside the ambulance, and the door opening is wider to accommodate the entry and exit of large people. Bariatric ambulances also make use of bariatric gurneys that are specially designed stretchers or gurneys that can handle the additional weight and have robust lifting gear to be able to support heavy patients.
Patients that weigh over 400-pounds will require transportation in a bariatric ambulance, but these ambulances can only carry patients up to a maximum of 1000-pounds.

Rapid Organ Recovery Ambulance

People who are registered organ donors or the family members of deceased individuals may give permission for organs to be harvested from their loved ones who have died in an accident or from a heart attack, brain embolism, or some other major medical event that could leave other organs intact.

A rapid organ recovery ambulance will be equipped to either remove organs from a deceased person at the scene or to transport a body in the correct manner to preserve the organs. If the organs are removed on the scene, the ambulance will have the equipment to package them correctly to prevent the deterioration of the organs till they can reach a hospital for a transplant patient.

Transporting a complete body can be done as well by keeping a brain-dead person on a ventilator until a hospital is reached to extract the organs for transplant.
These are very specialized ambulances, and depending on the type of organ recovery they will be doing, they may have a surgeon on board who is knowledgeable about organ removal and preservation.

Fixed-Wing Air Ambulance

Patients requiring medical care in remote locations or who are in places or countries that do not have the correct medical facilities to deal with their condition or treat them sufficiently may require long-distance transportation. This can be to a different country or to a different city that has the necessary facilities for their treatment.

A fixed-wing air ambulance is an airplane that has been fitted out as a flying ambulance. The type of equipment on board can vary from basic to advanced life support, and the crew can incorporate a doctor and highly qualified EMT personnel.

Air ambulances are often used if the distance needed to be traveled is beyond the range of a helicopter or the patient needs specialized equipment that will not fit in a smaller aircraft.

Air ambulances can vary in size from light aircraft to larger cargo carriers and will have different types of medical emergencies that they can respond to based on the equipment needed and the landing facilities available.

Helicopter Ambulance

helicopter ambulance

A helicopter ambulance in Bucharest, Romania

A helicopter ambulance is another version of a flying ambulance. They are used for the transportation of critically ill patients from accident scenes or for specialized treatment to a different hospital. They are also used to transport patients from rural or hard t reach locations that other vehicles or aircraft are not able to access.

Helicopter ambulances can be outfitted with advanced life support equipment but can often only transport one EMT and one patient at a time. Larger helicopters may be able to transport more patients but require larger spaces to land for the patient transfer and are usually limited to military applications.

Helicopters are useful for transporting sick or injured people from offshore locations such as oil rigs, ships, and boats or even from islands close to the mainland.

Helicopters do not have the same range as fixed-wing aircraft, so if the distances are long, a fixed-wing transport may be preferable over a helicopter.

Military Ambulance

The military has a variety of ambulance types to evacuate and treat their ill and wounded personnel. A military ambulance can be a truck that is equipped with medical gear and able to traverse rough terrain, or it can be a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft. Boats are also used as ambulances in branches of the military, such as the Navy, that operate in aquatic environments.

Military ambulances are usually equipped to treat major trauma such as gunshot wounds or injuries from explosions. This would include equipment to treat bleeding, burns, and broken bones while transporting patients to a medical facility for surgery.

The crew on military ambulances can vary from EMT-trained personnel to paramedics and even doctors and surgeons.

Van Ambulance

ambulance van

An ambulance van on road.

A van ambulance is a commercial van-type vehicle that has been converted and outfitted as an ambulance. The advantage of these vehicles is the tall, wide-opening rear doors that allow for easy access for patients on stretchers or gurneys and for medical equipment.

The inside of the van ambulance is also spacious enough to fit advanced medical equipment, the patient, and the attending crew who will be providing the medical care to the patient at the scene and en-route to the medical facility.
Van ambulances are often used for basic life support ambulances, MVA ambulances, patient transport ambulances, and in some cases for neonatal ambulances or rapid organ recovery ambulances. Because the width of these types of ambulances is fixed, they are not often used as advanced life support ambulances or as bariatric ambulances.

Pickup Truck Ambulance

A pickup truck ambulance is based on the construction of a pickup truck, but the back end is converted according to the type of ambulance required. The starting point is a chassis pickup, which consists of a pickup truck with a cab only, and a bare chassis at the back, ready to receive various configurations of ambulance on the back.

Because the flexibility of design of the back of the ambulance is capable of various configurations of ambulances, this type of ambulance is used to construct all manner of ambulances. They are most commonly used to make advanced life support ambulances and bariatric ambulances because the back of the ambulance can be made wider to accommodate the requirements for these functions.
A pickup truck can also be used to construct basic life support ambulances, MVA, and patient transport ambulances, as well as neonatal ambulances and isolation ambulances.

All-Terrain Vehicle Ambulance

Some locations where medical treatment is required are off the beaten track and not easily accessible via other vehicles. To provide medical treatment and even transportation of injured or ill individuals, an all-terrain vehicle or ATV ambulance may be required.

ATV ambulances can carry heavy loads over rough terrain, which makes them ideal vehicles as ambulances in rural areas or regions where roads are limited or not in good repair. An ATV would be used mostly to get a medical professional to the patient to treat them on-site in preparation for a different ambulance to evacuate them.

However, if the patient is able to sit up, the ATV ambulance can be used to transport the person to a location that is more accessible to larger ambulances or vehicles. ATV ambulances are also capable of towing a trailer which could accommodate a patient in the prone position if the terrain is conducive to this type of transport.

Motorcycle Ambulance

A motorcycle is a nimble vehicle that can navigate traffic jams and narrow streets or rough terrain much easier and quicker than larger four-wheeled vehicles.
Motorcycle ambulances are often used in the role of getting a paramedic or EMT to a patient that is in a hard-to-reach location. The motorcycle will have limited equipment on board, but it could be enough to save lives and treat bleeding or stabilize a patient until a more appropriate ambulance can reach the patient for transportation.

Cities often use motorcycle ambulances in the first responder role to get qualified medical personnel to an accident scene or disaster area very quickly. The medical professional on the motorcycle will assess the scene and the patients, provide the treatment that they can, and advise on the types of ambulances needed for evacuation of the patients.

Bicycle Ambulance

A bicycle ambulance offers the same benefits to emergency medical treatment that a motorcycle ambulance does, but it is just a little slower. A bicycle ambulance is useful in city centers where other emergency services may not be able to gain access due to high traffic density or blocked roads.

Bicycle ambulances are also useful in rural areas where there are few roads and no other medical transport services available. The bicycle ambulance is most useful in getting treatment to the patient rather than taking the patient to the treatment.
However, the bicycle can be used to transport an ill patient if the bicycle is equipped to tow a small trailer that the patient can sit in or lie down on. The trailer can also be used to increase the carrying capacity of the bicycle to transport more medical equipment and supplies.

Boat Ambulance

Boat ambulances are common in cities that have major waterways that pass through them, which is less likely to suffer from traffic congestion. Boat ambulances are also used to transport patients from other boats, oil rigs, and nearby islands for medical treatment on the mainland.

Cities such as Venice, which have extensive waterways, make effective use of boat ambulances as part of their emergency medical services.

Boat ambulances vary in size and capacity depending on the type of waterways that they service and the type of medical emergencies they are expected to attend to. The boats can be equipped as a quick responder type boat which will have speed, or it could be a larger boat that has more capacity for the crew, patients, and medical equipment.

Boat ambulances are important in remote areas where roads are limited or impassable during certain seasons. To some of these regions, the only effective means of access is via boat, which makes a boat ambulance an important service for communities who live in these locations.

Mini Ambulance

A mini ambulance is a term that is often given to an ambulance that is not considered a traditional street vehicle. They are often intended for use in very specific environments where other vehicles are not practical or cannot gain access.
Golf carts are often converted into mini ambulances for this type of emergency role. They are used in this fashion in large shopping malls, at outdoor events, on golf courses, in conservation areas, zoos, and other public areas or functions where other vehicles are not suitable.

In this role, the mini ambulance is normally crewed by people who have been trained in advanced first aid rather than at paramedic level, but this can vary from location to location.

The mini ambulance is normally used to transport the patient to a location where a more advanced ambulance can collect the patient and take over their care and transport them to a medical facility.