WHITMAN — The Fire Department’s newest acquisition is a state-of-the-art ambulance that not only improves patient care and data transmission to hospitals, but can also help prevent back injuries for responding firefighter/EMTs.
It also saves money toward eventual replacement, as the “box” containing patient care equipment can be removed and placed on a new chassis, cutting the cost of any new LifeLine vehicle by almost half. It is the third LifeLine ambulance, which are built by Specialty Vehicles.
Chief Timothy Grenno said Monday the ambulance, already in service, replaces a 2000 Wheelcoach vehicle, which will now be auctioned off — most likely as scrap after a lot of hard miles.
“It was no longer a viable piece of equipment for an ambulance,” he said of the decommissioned vehicle.
The new $265,000 ambulance was paid for from the ambulance reserve account revenue, including $80,000 from an appropriation approved at the 2016 Town Meeting for the deposit on the order.
“That’s the same account we purchase all of our equipment out of, so nothing comes out of tax dollars,” Grenno said. “Although the up-front cost is expensive, the attraction to these ambulances is that Specialty Vehicles has a tremendous remount process.”
The expensive part of any ambulance is the boxy body containing patient care equipment. In 10 years, when the new ambulance is ready to be refurbished, not only will the box be transferred to a new chassis, but the box will also be refurbished and updated.
The first such ambulance bought by the Whitman Fire Department is a 2009 vehicle, up for refurbishment in two to three years.
That process is expected to cost between $150,000 and $180,000.
“You have to put the money out first to get the quality ambulance and, after that, you have the option to ‘refurb,’ as long as the box stays in good shape and it’s not beat up,” Grenno said. “That’s all about demand on the vehicle. As our calls increase, the demand on the ambulance is increased.”
Call volume to the department for medical emergencies has steadily increased since 1965. The new ambulance also addresses the increasing technology demands of patient care, Grenno said.
The state requires a patient care report for all patients carried in ambulances, which must be transmitted to hospitals wirelessly. “It’s everything that we do — it’s an electronic report of how the patient presents, what we do for treatment, medications we give them and everything else,” he said. “It’s made our response more efficient.”
The new vehicle comes with Wi-Fi to make that possible. Air cards used with the older ambulance were unreliable and subject to malfunction or failure.
A bridge program between the computer-aided dispatch system and the AmbuPro patient care reporting system the department uses provides an automatically feeds all the needed information about a call to first responders and saves time — which saves lives.
Gurneys have also changed over the years, from those requiring manual raising and lowering and lifting into the ambulance to a fully automated gurney that eliminates a lot of that lifting and helps prevent back injuries.
Grenno said the loading system on the new ambulance helps prevent that kind of injury, with push-button controls that adjusts gurney height and loading onto the vehicle.
“Everybody that started in EMS prior to battery-operated and non-lifting stretchers has back injuries,” he said. “If you have somebody that has a back injury then the minimum amount of time that they are going to be out if it’s a significant back injury is six months. Generally, it’s close to a year.”
Beyond insurance costs connected to such injuries, it can cost thousands of dollars in overtime to cover that shift.
“We don’t want our guys to get hurt,” Grenno said. “We try to buy equipment that makes their job safer.”
A liquid ride suspension system also provides a smoother, more stable ride than air ride systems that were susceptible to wear and tended to waiver back and forth “like a cruise ship.”