Casey McBeath pictured with one of his agency's Sprinter ambulances
Since being founded by Ralph Balentine in 1978, Balentine Ambulance Service (BAS) has been providing emergency and nonemergency transport in the Shreveport-Bossier City metroplex and surrounding areas of Northwest Louisiana.
For most of that time, the company has used Ford Type II and III ambulances, but recently BAS decided to take a chance on the smaller Sprinter platform—and they’re very happy with the results.
“Since May 2011, when we put our first Sprinter into service, we have had great reviews from our medics, patients and the general public,” says Casey McBeath, BAS’ director of communications. He is the grandson of Ralph Balentine. “Some medics didn’t think there would be enough room for their equipment,” McBeath adds, “but once working in them, they have come to understand that the design of the patient compartment allows for maximum storage and ease of access.”
Balentine Ambulance Service started out with Ford Type II ambulances; transitioned to the mini-modular Type III units on a Ford single rear wheel chassis; and then to the larger modular Type III with the Ford dual rear wheel chassis in 2005.
Ford has done well by the company over the years. This said, “Being a private service, we are always finding the balance between what is functional for the medics providing patient care, as well what is economical to operate and maintain,” says McBeath. This is why BAS decided to try out the smaller Sprinter ambulance, he tells EMS World: “because of its ability to strike a balance between functionality and economical cost of operation and maintenance.” BAS specifically bought the AEV Mercedes Sprinter because they liked AEV’s quality of construction and the clean, professional look of the ambulance.
Today, BAS still runs mainly on Fords, with 12 Type IIIs and two Type IIs, but the company is now running three Sprinters in its ambulance fleet, and more are on the horizon.
According to McBeath, the Sprinter does have some disadvantages, but the positives of this platform make them worth living with. So what are the advantages? “The ergonomics of the Sprinter—especially for the driver—are amazing,” he says. “I’ve had medics tell me they don’t get as tired after driving even long distances in a Sprinter as compared to a Type III unit.”
Then there’s gas: “The fuel mileage is great,” says McBeath. “We are seeing, at minimum a double in miles per gallon as compared to modular Type III ambulances.” Service costs are also down, in part because the Sprinter’s “onboard maintenance logger tells you when regular service is needed,” as opposed to doing maintenance based on mileage alone. It also doesn’t hurt that the Sprinter uses a single wheel rear axle, resulting in fewer worn tires to replace.
But what about the Sprinter’s smaller size, compared to a Ford Type II/III? On this point, the reviews are mixed. Being smaller is “great in an urban setting where maneuverability is a must,” McBeath says, but “the small size can be a disadvantage when transporting specialty patients such as NICU teams with infants in isolets. These types of patients usually benefit from a larger patient compartment.”
This said, Balentine Ambulance Service believes that the lower costs associated with the Sprinter justify finding ways to cope with its few shortcomings. As a result, “Our plans currently are to transition the fleet to Sprinters, only keeping modular units for specialty transports when needed,” McBeath says.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Ford Type IIIs have a guaranteed future as BAS’ modular speciality transports: “With the constant evolution of the Sprinter line, these may become one and the same,” McBeath concludes.
For more, see balentineambulance.com.
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering computer technologies.