“We've noticed that many patients don't weigh 75 kilos these days, but often a lot more – that's the basic reason we've chosen to get these heavy-duty vehicles,” Schleswig-Holstein rescue services spokesman Christian Mandel told The Local on Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that patients are treated safely and with human dignity.”
Mandel was unable to give exact figures for the proportion of ambulance call-outs that involve obese patients.
But rescuers think it's a significant enough challenge that they've acquired two ambulances based on 7.5-tonne trucks, to be stationed at bases in the port city of Lübeck and centrally-located Rendsburg.
Normal ambulances closer to the scene of emergencies are expected to respond as normal and then call in the bigger set of wheels should they prove necessary, the emergency services said in a statement.
As well as the normal equipment found in any ambulance, a number of specialist items will be loaded on board.
The new ambulances for overweight patients have a roomier interior than other rescue vehicles. Photo: Rettungsdienst Kooperation Schleswig-Holstein
With wider stretchers – 91 centimetres rather than the standard 55 – capable of carrying patients weighing up to 400 kilogrammes, the new vehicles should be capable of transporting the largest patients.
And the ambulances also have a heavy-duty hydraulic lift on the back for lifting patients into the treatment area and a reinforced, extra-wide litter – a stretcher without wheels – that can be attached to abseiling gear.
“The lifting system with the electro-hydraulic drive for lifting and lowering is built in for ergonomic reasons, to minimize the load on the paramedics' backs even further,” rescue services official Jan Noelle said in the statement.
Apart from the extra equipment, there is little difference in how rescue workers deal with extra-large patients compared with slimmer ones.
“All we've had to do is train our colleagues on the specialist vehicles – there's no difference in medical treatment,” spokesman Mandel said.
As for whether two ambulances will be enough to respond to all call-outs calling for heavy lifting – only time will tell.
So far rescue services have no plans to order more of the chunkier vehicles – but that may change if they find themselves overwhelmed with cases, Mandel said.
High rates of obesity in Germany
According to the University of Leipzig's Institute for the Study and Treatment of Obesity, 67.1 percent of men and 53 percent of women in Germany are 'overweight' – with a Body Mass Index of more than 25.
Obesity – a BMI of more than 30 – affects 23.3 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in the Federal Republic.
That's a lower rate than the USA, where 36 percent of adults are classed as obese, but higher than neighbouring France or Switzerland.
A total of around 1.5 billion people around the world are estimated to be obese or overweight, or roughly 20 percent of the global population.