Vehicle Ops is a new column in EMS Magazine that will address a variety of topics centering around emergency vehicle operations—everything from safe driving techniques to ambulance maintenance to how to purchase an ambulance. The column will feature guest writers, as well as interviews with leading industry figures. Our mission is to help educate EMS providers on how best to operate the vehicles they place their trust in every day in a bid to reduce the number of accidents experienced by public safety personnel. If there is a particular topic you would like us to cover, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This month’s column features the first half of a two-part interview by Associate Editor John Erich with Dale Leich, special-projects manager for Huntsville, AL-based ambulance manufacturer Excellance, Inc. Leich has a background in fire and EMS spanning more than three decades, and has been involved with emergency vehicle purchasing and sales since 1975.
EMS: Buying an ambulance seems like a complex decision. Do most departments truly appreciate how difficult the process is? Are they prepared for everything it entails?
Leich: We encounter a wide variety of purchasing methods and attitudes. Career organizations may have a single person designated as their “ambulance guru,” or a committee established to handle vehicle purchases. They’ve usually developed a set of basic standards and features over the years. Most of these folks are pretty well-informed as to what works best for their specific needs.
Small agencies and volunteer groups buy less often. Leadership turnover can be frequent, and the person or committee that ends up responsible for buying a new vehicle may not have any experience with such a large purchase. The wrong vehicle purchase by an organization of this size can have a great negative impact, since they will have to live with the results for many years.
EMS: Obviously, an ambulance buyer has to evaluate what he truly needs versus what he can do without. What resources are required to make these decisions? How does one go about preparing for the process?
Leich: Everyone will have their own ideas based upon their experiences, perceptions and ideas, and the “wish list” for most new ambulances will usually be larger than the allocated budget. First, determine what your vehicle need is, such as a simple Type II van or a larger vehicle like a Type I or III. That decision will strongly guide the available features and options you may include.
It’s probably best to make two lists of the items you want on the vehicle. One should include “must have” items, and the second should include “nice to have” features, so you can do a cost/benefit analysis. Vendors can typically provide you with itemized pricing for optional items.
EMS: If you’re happy with a vendor you’ve used in the past, does it make sense to just stick with them, or is it wiser to continually shop around?
Leich: Folks are resistant to change just for the sake of change, so they may feel it best to simply order another vehicle from the vendor they’ve used in the past. This is probably the least controversial and most comfortable method, especially for volunteer groups, but it can present problems from time to time.
Even if you’re happy with your current vendor, it’s still best to do some homework and study how your ambulances are used. BLS units, ALS units, fire-rescue units, etc., can have different storage and working requirements. Has your agency upgraded from BLS to ALS, and do you now require more equipment storage? Are you encountering more multiple-patient calls that require larger vehicles? Are you planning to carry hazmat, decon, WMD equipment?
EMS: How big a difference does the chassis make? What are the considerations in selecting that?