Hot wheels: New county ambulance hits the road

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, May 16, 2015

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Wise County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) rolled out a new ambulance last week, and despite a state-of-the-art setup, the new color is what piqued public curiosity.

EMS opted for black, veering away from the traditional red.

Ready to Roll

READY TO ROLL – Wise County medics (from left) Mike Picha, Brandon Daugherty, Mike Martinez, Brady Murphree and Dustin Duvall stand ready with the new ambulance to respond to emergencies. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

EMS Administrator Charles Dillard said there was no particular reason behind the choice other than it was something different and appealed to medics researching different ambulance styles and layouts prior to the purchase.

He was more excited by the vehicle’s bells and whistles and how it will enhance patient care in Wise County.

“We want to bring the best care to the citizens and do as much as we can for them,” Dillard explained.

The new ambulance, which is four-wheel drive, provides more work space for medics and has more storage for equipment.

The back is reconfigured so that in addition to the captain’s chair at the head of the patient, there is a seat to the left of the stretcher. Dillard said this will allow medics to have more face-to-face interaction with the patient.

Previously, if medics wanted to sit to the side, it had to be on a bench. The new seat is not only more comfortable, it’s also equipped with a shoulder belt, making it safer. This seat can be rotated to create another place for someone to lie down.

The captain’s chair can be transformed by moving a cushion to create a child’s seat.

There is a headset in the back that medics can use to talk to the driver or radio dispatcher, and with the flip of a switch, they can darken the windows on the back doors.

“The biggest improvement is the stretcher system,” Dillard pointed out.

A hydraulic lift system that automatically loads the stretcher will reduce physical stress on the medics, and it’s safer for patients, ensuring they’re not turned over.

All the lights are LED, and a front spotlight spins all the way around, making it easier to locate vehicles when going to a car accident or see addresses while responding to medical emergencies.

The new ambulance is being used by Medic 1 in Decatur, and another will arrive next week for Medic 2, based in Bridgeport. They were purchased from Dallas Dodge. Frazer, based in Houston, built the boxes.

The ambulances cost $196,450 each and were paid for with capital expenditure funds.

In two more years, EMS’ entire front line of vehicles will be new, as Dillard plans to purchase ambulances for Medic 3, Medic 4 and Rescue 1.

The old Medic 1 ambulance had 134,000 miles on it and had been remounted on a new chassis once. Dillard said if the body holds up, he tries to remount an ambulance once before purchasing an entirely new vehicle.

In addition to Medics 1 through 4, EMS runs Medic 5 to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday to assist with transfers. The department also has three backup ambulances, which are utilized if a vehicle goes in for maintenance and at special events.

Ambulance in Action

AMBULANCE IN ACTION – Wise County medics use the hydraulic lift system to load a patient into the new ambulance Thursday afternoon. EMS Administrator Charles Dillard said the lift system is one of the best features of the new vehicle. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty


Although the old ambulances would normally be sold, Sheriff David Walker asked during Monday’s commissioners meeting if his department could have one to retrofit as a crime scene vehicle.

“We have a crime scene vehicle budgeted, and if we can get an old ambulance … it would be a lot cheaper,” he said.

The sheriff said he had priced new vehicles, and they are “astronomically high,” coming in at more than $100,000. He also looked at used vehicles, but he said many have higher mileage than the ambulances.

Walker said the vehicle would allow his staff to take everything needed to process evidence on-scene.

“We used to use just a van. It’s good for hauling stuff out there but not good for getting inside and processing it,” he said. “We really wouldn’t have to gut it all. We use the same cabinetry that they would use for medical supplies.”

He noted the outside lights on the ambulance would be helpful during nighttime investigations.

The four commissioners weren’t immediately convinced and questioned how much it would be used.

Walker said his department assists local agencies with their crime scenes and is even being called to help other counties with murder investigations in addition to their own case load.

“Would the retrofit be part of your budget proposal for this next year?” County Judge J.D. Clark asked.

Walker said it might be, but it could possibly be covered with funds from this fiscal year, depending on how much was left over.

By Friday, he had looked into the cost and said it would be minimal and covered within fiscal year 2014.

He told commissioners the van currently used as a crime-scene vehicle could transport prisoners or they could sell it.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White eventually made the motion to transfer the old ambulance from EMS to the sheriff’s office. It was unanimously approved.

“For chain-of-custody purposes, it makes sense to process it where you pick it up,” the sheriff said. “The more we can process in the field the better.”

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