Better mileage, lower operating costs: That's the verdict on the Dodge Sprinter, according to Louisiana-based Acadian Ambulance Service. The company has been using Chevrolet Type I and Type II ambulances since its inception in 1971. However, rising operating and fuel costs motivated Acadian to consider the lighter-weight Dodge Sprinter; a smaller, taller van that has long been used for EMS in Europe.
"Acadian Ambulance Service took delivery of our first Sprinter ambulance in July 2008," says Bill Vidacovich, the company's VP of fleet maintenance. "Since that time, Acadian has infused a total of 49 additional Sprinters into the fleet of 316 ambulances. Most of the new vehicles replaced the larger Type III module units that the company had targeted for replacement during the last quarter of 2008."
According to Vidacovich, the Sprinter gets 15 miles to the gallon; almost double the mileage of its Chevy ambulances. (They also run on diesel, which is cheaper than gas.) The Sprinter's patient compartment is admittedly more narrow than the module Type I or III Chevy, but still has enough room to carry all of the equipment and medical supplies found in a Type I ambulance. Because they have a small footprint, the Sprinters handle more like a car than a truck.
The Sprinter ambulances have won the respect of the Acadian EMS crews driving them; so much so that the company has decided "to continue with the Sprinter as the vehicle of choice in its first quarter replacement plans," Vidacovich tells EMS Magazine. "Today, there are 23 additional Sprinters on order and once they are integrated into the fleet, 23% of Acadian's ambulances will be Sprinter vehicles."
The move to this Euro-van platform was a major step for Acadian, an employee-owned company that serves Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Had the Sprinter gamble gone wrong, it could have put Acadian into a serious bind. After all, healthcare dollars are tight, and the last thing the company has is extra cash to gamble on vehicle choices.
Fortunately, the Sprinter's proven EMS record in Europe (as the Mercedes Sprinter), plus Acadian's careful research into this cost-saving option (including the use of Sprinter vans in their supply distribution fleet) reduced the risk considerably. In fact, it appears that the gamble is paying off for this company, by allowing it to reduce operational and fuel costs without compromising service.
"Acadian traveled just over 20 million miles in 2008, and it is anticipated that the Sprinter will serve Acadian's patients well while delivering about $6,000 in savings per vehicle per year for every Sprinter in service," Vidacovich says. "The company is cautiously optimistic as we enter the New Year with a vehicle that, so far, handles well, provides patient comfort, is regarded as a very safe vehicle and is cost-efficient."
Translation: The Dodge Sprinter is proving itself to be an affordable, reliable and economical EMS vehicle. As a result, other EMS operators are likely to follow Acadian's lead, making Sprinter ambulances a common sight on U.S. streets.
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering computer technologies.