When you train to be an ambulance technician, you have to do two weeks of 'driving instruction', where you are split into groups of four, get given a 17 seater van that has been hired for you, and you learn how to drive your ambulance using this equipment.
Perhaps the most important difference between an ambulance and the 17-seaters that we are given is that ambulances are automatic, while the 17-seaters are manual (I believe the American term is 'stick'), and that 17-seaters just don't 'feel' like an ambulance.
The training course consists of two days of fun, and the rest is chasing each other around the countryside at high speed.
The two days of fun include driving around a racing track, spinning around a skid-pan and swerving around traffic cones at high speed, both forward and in reverse.
Then for the next two weeks, you learn some theory in the classroom such as the 'limit point' and the forces that act on a vehicle (and why sometimes speeding up when you are losing control is a good thing). The rest of the time is spent driving at high speed around the countryside, making sure that you have the correct gear speed and suchlike for high speed cornering.
There are a few things that make this training course less than effective – the first is that as the London Ambulance Service, it is extremely rare that you find yourself driving in the countryside, it is also rare that you drive at any speed above 40mph and as mentioned earlier, ambulances are automatic vehicles and as such don't have gears.
I drove an actual, real ambulance a grand total of once during training. I sat in the drivers seat, pointed to the lever in the middle of the floor and said 'whats that, and where is the clutch pedal?'
Luckily for me learning to drive an automatic is pretty easy.
At no point during the driving course did we drive on 'blue lights and sirens', something that may have caused my first RTA.
(insert wobbly flashback special effect here)
The first day out on the road, out of training school went well – I was attending (A&E nurse for some years) and my crewmate was driving (previous job? 'Man and Van'). So the driving went well, as did the attending (dealing with sick people). The next day our roles were swapped, I warned our supervisor that I'd never really driven an ambulance before – but he said that we'd be fine if we worked like yesterday.
So on my first emergency job, blue lights went on, sirens went on and people started moving out the way – it was then that I realised that you can't fit a 7'2″ ambulance through gap made by two cars which is only 6'6″ wide. First (and hopefully only time) I've been called a 'C**t!' by a boss, although to be fair- the only time I think I've deserved it. I learnt how to fill in accident forms that day…and how to judge distances a bit better. (An ambulance is wider, longer and taller than a 1.0L Ford Fiesta).
Soon my training came to an end and I was thrown into the world of emergency driving in Newham…
(End wobbly flashback sequence, cue end title “To Be Continued…”)