Picture this: The storm had knocked out power across three counties, and unfortunately, your zone was situated in the thick of it. Although your station was equipped with an emergency generator, the steady influx of calls had kept you from touching base. And now you're dispatched to an overdose at the nearby homeless shelter.
You arrive on scene and fight your way through the driving rain to find an unresponsive male who collapsed in the dark hallway. The security guard lights the scene with his flashlight as you begin your assessment. You rapidly assess the patient's vitals as your partner flips open the airway bag.
The patient has labored, erratic respirations, with a steady stream of vomit seeping from the corner of his mouth. You crank on the suction machine and successfully clear the airway. Fortunately, you had the foresight to charge your batteries prior to the storm's arrival.
Getting caught on scene without your suction unit can place your patient in real peril. Without a reliable suction unit, there's really no way to effectively clear the airway of blood, vomit, or sputum. Sure, you can try swiping the oral cavity clear, but in some cases, that will only force the fluids farther into the oropharynx. What you need is effective suction. Here’s how to get it.
In most instances, a rechargeable battery-powered portable suction unit is the unit of choice. Rechargeable batteries are cost-effective and convenient, but they have their drawbacks. Without electricity, there is no way to charge the batteries, so in a disaster situation or a prolonged mass-casualty incident (MCI), a better option is a unit powered by alkaline batteries.
Portable suction units that rely on alkaline batteries have several advantages over rechargeables:
- They run independent of electricity, and extra batteries can be carried on board your rig, enabling immediate replacement when batteries run low.
- They are an excellent alternative for MCI trailers. During natural disasters, where electricity is in short supply, you won't have to worry about powering your portable suction units, with plenty of backup alkalines available.
- Alkaline battery-run units come in a range of sizes. There are units small enough to fit neatly into an airway or trauma bag, making them ideal for tactical scenarios. In the event of a hostage situation, you may be on scene for extended periods without the ability to recharge your unit's battery. A quick alkaline replacement can be done anywhere.
A larger alkaline unit is perfect for disaster or MCI scenarios, where you have numerous patients requiring suction but no accessible power supply. These large units can remain in service as long as there are plenty of replacement batteries available.
Don’t Forget Maintenance!
Whether you choose a unit that relies on rechargeable batteries or one using alkaline, maintaining the unit is key to keeping it functional and reliable. Here are some suggestions:
- Store extra batteries in temperature-controlled, dry locations.
- Check the unit at the start of each shift.
- Keep the unit clean and disinfect it after each use.
- Follow manufacturer guidelines for annual maintenance and ensure warranty adherence.
- Keep the unit in a secure place within your rig to prevent damage.
Selecting a Unit
Choosing a reliable battery-operated portable suction unit will depend on several factors:
- What are your agency’s needs? Day-to-day operations? Or special incidents?
- How many units will you need? Cost can play a key factor in large purchases.
- What special features do you require? Research the manufacturer's literature.
- What type of power source do you prefer? Rechargeable or alkaline batteries?
Whichever unit you choose, be sure it comes from a reliable source, one with a proven track record of quality and durability. Form a consensus in your department so that you have input from across the board. Those in the field should have a say-so on the type of portable suction units best suited for the populations they serve. Advise administration so that it makes decisions that will serve those in the field.
Through thoughtful consensus and careful research, you can choose a reliable battery-operated portable suction unit specifically suited for your department's needs.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in September 2017. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.