Shifts for paramedics and emergency medical technicians can last as long as 24 hours. It’s no surprise that a day-long shift can include a lot of activity, especially in communities with limited EMS services or larger populations.


Before a long shift, emergency personnel should anticipate using their entire set of equipment and preparing accordingly, ensuring the ambulance is fully stocked with supplies and every device is disinfected and working properly. But maintenance is not something to be done once per shift — rather, crews must pay heed to upkeep between calls. 


Portable suctioning units, in particular, require attention. Being used to clear airways of obstructions, blood, fluids and an assortment of other secretions during a respiratory emergency or trauma, the devices are vital to an EMS professional’s first-in bag, but they are also susceptible to harmful pathogens and contamination.


For that reason and more, regular suction unit maintenance during a shift is just as important as time between shifts. Depending on call frequency, there may not be much time to take the proper steps but making every effort to do so will lead to safer, more effective and efficient treatment. Read on for the key areas to focus on during maintenance.




Simply placing a suction catheter in a patient’s mouth can invite contamination (that goes double in this age of COVID-19). Additionally, tight spaces such as tubing and canisters serve as breeding grounds for germs, and the outer casing can be spattered in blood and fluids.


Disinfection is a must following each call that requires use of the suctioning unit — even if it doesn’t appear contaminated. Approved cleaning solutions or a bleach and water mixture should get the job done. Clean the entire unit as quickly as possible, as it not only protects the next patient that requires suctioning but defends the responder, as well. 




Imagine this nightmare: EMTs arrive to a scene where a patient has been in a vehicle accident, suffering a chest injury, and their airway is filling with blood. A responder pulls out a portable suctioning unit — but the battery is dead.


Fortunately, it’s an avoidable situation. If a responder is taking the proper steps before a shift, they will have checked that each piece of battery-powered equipment is fully charged and working before hitting the road. But mistakes are made, and sometimes rechargeable batteries near the end of their lifecycle will drain faster than expected. For that reason, responders should check suction units following every call to ensure they are working and providing consistent suctioning.




While a crew will almost certainly dispose of all waste and biohazards that result from a call, it is also important to include disposable attachments from the suctioning unit when trashing unsanitary, potentially harmful items. Disposable items used in suctioning include tips, catheters and tubing as well as PPE equipment, such as gloves or masks, must also be removed.


Trashing all those disposables, of course, means responders will need to replenish their toolkit following each use and restock the ambulance when necessary and between shifts.


Are you ready?


Sometimes, the best maintenance is replacing or upgrading the products you already have. SSCOR has a wide variety of suctioning units and supplies designed for hospital and EMS use, each designed with providers and their patients in mind.


S-SCORT III portable hospital suction for ambulances and first responders