vehicle equipped for transporting and caring for ill and wounded people

An ambulance is a vehicle that is made to take people who are sick or injured to a hospital or other medical facility. Ambulances help people who are involved in life-threatening Emergency situations. These include Motor Vehicle Accidents, Heart Attacks, Strokes, Seizures and other emergency situations. Ambulances and other medical vehicles have specialized equipment that helps in these emergencies.

A UK Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ambulance in London.
An ambulance in Rome, Italy

The first ambulances were used on battlefields. They were carts pulled by horses that were used to take wounded soldiers to field hospitals.[1] Horse-drawn ambulances were common in Europe and North America in the 19th century. Automobiles replaced horses in the early 1900s. The chief physician of Napoleon Bonapart, Dominique Jean Larrey[2] invented a concept of a dedicated vehicle which is reserve to carry patients to the hospita. Nowadays, these can provide first aid or other emergency care. Ambulances and other medical vehicles have specialized emergency lights, sirens and horns that they use to warn people that they are coming down the road. Ambulances normally have Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or Paramedics working in them. Ambulances may be used by a Rescue Squad, a separate Emergency Medical Services Agency or a Fire Department.

Ambulances are normally called by dialing a special emergency number. This number is different for each country. In the United Kingdom, the number is 999.[3] In the United States, the number is 911;[4] In Europe, the number is 112.[5] A call to any of these numbers connects the caller to a specialized Emergency Telephone Operator or Dispatcher who works at an Emergency Dispatch or Control Facility. Once information from the calling person or persons have been given, the Emergency Telephone Operator or Dispatcher sends an ambulance or other Medical vehicles to the incident.

An ambulance usually has two or more crew members. One person drives while the other looks after the patient in the back. A paramedic will have at least a year of medical training. They can do fairly advanced treatment. Not all ambulances have paramedics on them. In the United States, some may have Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Emergency Care Assistants (ECAs) can be found in the United Kingdom. In some countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, ambulances may have doctors or nurses on board.


Big military ambulance for when many people are hurt

In the past, ambulances only gave patients a ride to hospital. They only carried a small amount of first aid equipment. This is still true in some parts of the world. Most modern ambulances will have more equipment and medicine. In some countries, an ambulance is like a mobile doctor's clinic.

Ambulances or other Medical vehicles have some or all of the following equipment on board:

  • Collar: A special collar used to hold a person so they can not move their neck. This is used if it is thought that they may have damaged their backbone.
  • Defibrillator: An electric machine that delivers electricity and restarts a heart that has stopped beating normally. Some defibrillators are connected to a heart monitor and use Manual Paddles whereas an Automated Defibrillator has voice commands and tells the emergency workers and bystanders to stand back so that a shock can be delivered.
  • Nitrous oxide: Also known as "laughing gas". This gas is used to reduce pain.
  • Heart monitor: This machine shows how well a heart is beating. As explained above, a Heart Monitor can have a Defibrillator connected to it.
  • Oxygen cylinders: If a person is having trouble breathing, it often helps to give them oxygen from a cylinder.
  • Splints: These hold an arm or leg in place if a bone is broken. They stop the broken bone from moving and getting worse.
  • Stretcher: A stretcher is used to carry the patient in and out of the ambulance.
  • Wheelchair: A chair with wheels used to carry a patient.
  • Medications: Medications are found on Ambulances and other medical vehicles. Medications include cardiac (heart) drugs, anti seizure medications and others.

Air ambulance

A UK helicopter ambulance

Air ambulances became more common in the late 20th century. They are helicopters that carry much of the same equipment as a normal ambulance. In the United States, the Coast Guard runs a public air ambulance service using helicopters. These are often needed when emergencies happen at sea. There are also privately owned air ambulance services that provide for a wider range of needs, including international transport. Air ambulances are very useful when an emergency happens in a place that is hard to get to quickly by ground travel.

Air ambulances are very important in countries with low population density (few people, living in a vast area). Examples of these areas are Canada, Russia, Sweden or Finland. They can often save the life of a patient who would otherwise die because they could not get to a hospital quickly by other means.


  1. "Why Is An Ambulance Called An Ambulance". Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  2. Royds, R. B. (1970-05-09). "Peripatetic Patient". BMJ. 2 (5705): 367–367. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5705.367-b. ISSN 0959-8138.
  3. "Calling 999 - London Ambulance Service NHS Trust". London Ambulance Service NHS Trust - accidents, traffic accidents, car, vehicle. 2017-08-14. Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  4. "911 and Other Special Service Numbers". Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  5. "Single emergency number – missing children helpline". Your Europe. Retrieved 2024-04-19.