By Sue Botos
The idea of refurbishing a 10-year-old ambulance has sparked controversy among firefighters.
Replacing the vehicle, one of three in the city’s fleet, topped the wish list of fire Chief Chris Flynn when he addressed City Council during its budget hearing in January. However, Flynn noted that since this was probably not an economic option, the “box,” or the portion in which the patient is carried, can be removed, and the chassis replaced. He said this has already been done with another unit, which was in an accident in 2006.
While the unit has only racked up 49,000 miles, Flynn pointed out, “These (are) hard miles, as the truck is usually driven at high speed, stopping often and idling during pickups.”
Fire Capt. Kevin Bednarski told council at its Feb. 11 session that he and fellow firefighters/EMTs are not convinced that this is the best way to go.
“I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the number of times (former safety service Director) Jim Linden told me safety vehicles are the most important priority,” Bednarski stated. He added that police cars and nonemergency city vehicles such as service department trucks are never “rechassied.” The idea of refitting an emergency unit that had been called “of most importance” did not make sense, according to Bednarski.
Mayor Pam Bobst said that while replacement of the unit is a priority, such an expense could not be considered until the city starts to realize revenue for the year.
When asked if ambulance boxes are refitted with new chassis elsewhere, Bednarski said that he is looking into the issue.
Flynn told West Life, “We’ve done it before. I don’t know if it’s a common practice.” He added that he brought up the option at the finance hearing only as something to consider. “We’re trying to be conscientious,” he said, referring to ways to keep expenditures down.
The difference between the refitting and the purchase of a new vehicle, according to Flynn, is “in the vicinity of $60,000.”
Flynn noted that the retooling would involve more than just replacement of the chassis. “This is not simply loosening the bolts and putting the box on a chassis. The people at Braun (Ambulance) propose to update the box as well,” he stated. Money-saving updates could include the installation of longer-lasting LED lights, Flynn said.
The refits could be continued, according to Flynn, as long as the chassis, now a standard Ford Econoline model, remained compatible with the aluminum boxes.
During the January budget hearing, Councilman Michael O’Donnell asked about the useful life of an ambulance box, and how soon that would be outdated. Flynn noted that individual components such as lights, hoses and oxygen bottles will be replaced as part of the overhaul.
Flynn further explained that all three ambulances are fully functional and that two are on duty while the third spends one month off on a rotating basis. During the down time, the vehicle is sent to the service garage for maintenance.
Council Safety Committee Chairman Thomas Hunt pointed out that the number of runs made by the city EMTs had remained steady for years, then increased by 100 in 2011 and again by 100 in 2012. He suggested that the city’s aging population may have contributed to those numbers.
Hunt also noted that the city will save funds through a new agreement with Life Force Management, which provides ambulance billing. Under the contract, the amount charged to the city for collection of fees has been lowered from 7 percent to 6 percent based upon the increased use of technology in transmitting reports.
Bobst added that after consulting Steve Presley, the financial officer for the Westshore Council of Governments, it was determined that this percentage could be further reduced if four or more Westshore communities sign on with Life Force.