EMT Treating Patient | What to Include With Your Portable Suction Device

Your portable suction device is a vital piece of equipment, yet you may give it little thought on a shift-by-shift basis. We take for granted the critical role it plays in airway patency, assuming there is no need for preplanning or strategizing. But there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your suction unit remains operational, and part of the life-saving lineup you rely on each shift. Let’s discuss some of the strategies employed when deciding what to include with your portable suction device.


Accessories and Adjuncts

First is the unit itself. Your suction unit must have a full complement of accessories and adjuncts to ensure it can handle each critical suction scenario. This includes:


  • Durable tubing that will stand up to extreme temperatures and negative pressure. You must be sure your tubing isn’t cracked or weathered, which can happen over time, especially with low-quality materials. Use high-quality, durable tubing to prevent suction failure and leaks. It also helps to have a variety of lengths: shorter, for typical scenarios, and longer for special situations, such as extrications.
  • A variety of catheters, critical for handling a range of bodily fluids. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to suction catheters. Here are our recommendations:
    • Vented tips – Since they are vented with a thumb port they are useful for traditional suction techniques calling for no more than 10 to 15 seconds of suctioning at a time.  Make sure they are large bore.  You are not just dealing with saliva in the field.
    • Angled and non-vented –These are ideal for newer techniques such as the SALAD technique described by Dr. James DuCanto.  SALAD enables the care giver to intubate even in those situations when fluids continue to flood the airway.
    • Flexible or Trachael Catheters – Once the patient is intubated the need for suction has not passed.  You will need flexible tracheal catheters, sometimes called French catheters to remove secretions that can gather behind the cuff or hopefully remove some material that may have been aspirated before your successful intubation.


Having the right accessories and adjuncts will enhance the effectiveness of your portable suction device.


Have a Plan

Another critical factor to include with your portable suction unit is preplanning its inclusion on emergency scenes. The unit is of no use if it’s left behind on the truck. Be sure you have designated someone to bring along the suction unit any time you suspect a respiratory emergency. Store it next to other ALS equipment, for an easy grab on scene, and include it in training scenarios, such as mega-codes, so that its inclusion becomes second nature.


Maintenance is Key

Devising a maintenance plan for your portable suction device is fundamental to its reliability. The unit cannot function properly if it is not properly maintained. Here are our recommendations:

  • Check the unit at the start of each shift, and following each use on scene. This will ensure that the batteries are fully charged and operational.
  • Have backups available—not only batteries, but backup suction units as well. If your unit becomes damaged, you’ll need a replacement, and should an MCI occur, you’ll need additional units.
  • Keep the unit clean at all times. Disinfect after each use, even if it appears there is nothing in the tubing or canister. Suction units are inherently pathogenic, because they come in contact with bodily fluids. Use a bleach solution for disinfecting, and be sure to protect yourself in the process. This includes:
    • Always wearing personal protective equipment when handling contaminated equipment:
      • Gloves
      • Face and eye protection
      • Protective clothing
  • Disconnecting the unit from any power source prior to cleaning
  • Disconnecting the battery from the PC board when cleaning the interior chassis
  • Remembering to disinfectant all outer surfaces, such as control knobs, screens, and handles


When it comes down to it, there are numerous steps to take with your portable suction device to maximize its performance during respiratory emergencies. Proper accessories, thorough preplanning, and good maintenance practices will ensure your unit is ready for any critical suction scenario.


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