Sedgwick County’s Ambulance Remount Program Saves Millions

Sedgwick's 22nd ambulance remount on a new Ford E-450 chassis
Sedgwick’s 22nd ambulance remount on a new Ford E-450 chassis is underway.
Sedgwick's 22nd ambulance remount on a new Ford E-450 chassis
This was the finished product after Sedgwick County Fleet Management’s Light Equipment Shop completed its first Chevrolet chassis ambulance remount in 2008. Most of the remounts have used Ford chassis.

Editor’s note: This is the story of an ambulance remount program developed in Sedgwick County, Kansas, written by Boyd R. Powers, Sedgwick County Fleet Management’s Light Equipment Shop foreman.

Our program really began back in 2002 when our county commissioners allowed us to choose an ambulance manufacturer that we felt built a superior body compared to some of the others.

Of course those ambulances cost more, and the commissioners – while trying to justify the additional money – kept asking fleet if the higher quality bodies could be reused in a second life cycle by replacing the chassis when we would normally trade the units.

The suggestion made sense to us here at fleet. However, most of the remount facilities were charging almost the cost of new trucks, and they kept them out of service for extended periods of time, which our spare status would not allow.

By 2005 some of our ambulances were getting near the magic mileage, and these remount conversations were still taking place, but not really going anywhere.

My staff in the Light Equipment Shop were not ordinary technicians. They had demonstrated over and over that they were capable of accomplishing anything, and several of them were used to putting in long hours at other jobs. I asked them what they thought about us installing new chassis under our ambulance bodies right there in our shop and doing the work on overtime.

Two of them stepped up and said, “We’re in.” With me, that made three. The fleet manager asked me to put some numbers together. Then our shop bid against outside vendors for the job. Even with our pay being overtime, the numbers showed that doing it in house could save a considerable amount of money.

Right after that, our EMS service crashed a 30,000-mile ambulance into a pole, which totaled out the chassis, but didn’t hurt the body. That was to be our first victim.

A new chassis was purchased from a local ambulance builder, and we set out to replace it. We sat one technician down at his computer to record each step we took, and the other technician and I proceeded to remove the body and install it on the new chassis.

The records of the steps taken that weekend became our “remount job list.” We learned that our lifting equipment fell short of being heavy enough to do the job safely, but we accomplished the change using some additional jacks. We went lift shopping the next week with our fleet manager and decided to purchase an 18,000-pound above-ground model. It has been in use ever since, not only for lifting ambulance bodies, but also for everyday preventive maintenance work.

This first project was more like fixing a wreck by replacing the chassis than it was a remount and refurbish job because at 30,000 miles, the body didn’t need any refurbish work done. While we were doing the job, one of our stockroom employees approached me about getting involved in the remount program. She had no mechanical skills and was not EVT-certified in ambulance repair, but I told her we were going to need lots of cleaning done on future trucks. She has worked with us ever since.

We sat down with our EMS service to learn what their expectations were on future remounts regarding the refurbish steps, and we determined that the ambulances needed to look and function like they did when they were new. This would require extensive body and paint work, as well as replacing door weather-strips, Plexiglas doors and windows, the floor in the back, some of the Formica, which had been damaged by years of transporting patients, much of the aluminum trim used in the patient module and some of the upholstery, which had stains or tears.

One of EMS’s employees was a carpenter in a previous life with 25 years in the trade, and he was eager to earn some extra income. So we came up with a way that he could work with us at fleet and be paid the overtime by EMS. An ambulance “set-aside” fund could be used to reimburse EMS for his wages. Adding him meant all of the work would be done right here in house instead of sending the units out to have new floors and Formica installed. That brought the team up to five members.

We quickly learned that since we were doing this job when no one else was around, we needed to police ourselves to prevent injuries or burnout. Here are the rules we established early on, and they seem to serve us well:

  • Safety is job one.
  • No working alone.
  • No more than 10-hour workdays.
  • Working overtime is never mandatory. It is always on a want-to-work basis.
  • No seven-day workweeks.

We added three additional team members, allowing people to enjoy some time off while still having enough staff to keep the project on schedule.

 

One member came to us from Sedgwick County Fire with 30 years experience repairing fire apparatus. He also holds an EVT master fire certification. Another team member works for our Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, and he owns a side business up-fitting police cars for smaller communities. He is EVT-certified in law enforcement equipment installation.

Due to increased demands placed on our shop, we hired another technician to help with the ambulance fleet and also to build new police cars. He joined the remount program as well.

It takes around 500 hours to remount and refurbish each truck, and it doesn’t matter how many people share those hours. If everyone is present most of the available time, the trucks get completed quicker.

The dedication that has been displayed by this team is like nothing I have ever been associated with in a workplace. I’m sure the fact that they are not being forced to participate is a big factor. Through association, each team member soon learns the jobs of the other team members. So if one of them is gone, work still goes on.

Another aspect that makes this job fun is that we are not doing the same thing we do every day on the job. Mechanics thrive on creativity and building things with their hands and strive for perfection when doing so. They truly become craftsmen.

On any given Saturday in our shop you will see a couple of team members disconnecting or connecting electrical components; another cleaning or scrubbing dirty compartments; a couple of team members sanding the body or fixing damage to the body; and our carpenter is always in and out of the patient module performing his magic back there.

There is no need for a structured, barking-orders kind of environment because we all know what needs to be done before the next steps can be taken.

We have built 21 trucks to date and are working on number 22. Our original goal was to save $1 million, but with increases in new ambulance prices and the stability in our remount prices, we save that much every three years.

In addition to the cost savings, there are some very positive unintended outcomes from this program:

  • Wrecked ambulances that used to be considered a total loss can now be repaired in-house for much less than replacing them.
  • Shop equipment, such as the lift, welders, saws, and bodywork tools, make this a truly full-service shop.
  • The various trims and other raw materials kept on hand for remounts make many more everyday repairs possible without having to wait on parts.
  • Technicians learn new skills that make them more valuable and marketable.
  • The remount order is not set in stone. If an engine or transmission is lost at a higher mileage, the truck can be moved forward in the schedule. The chassis can then be sold with the declared problem.
  • Our ambulance manufacturer blessed our project from the beginning and honored its warranty on the body and electrical system even though we had replaced the chassis.
  • Since we no longer have to trade old ambulances in on new ones, we have flexibility on how many spares we keep on hand at any given time.
  • We have actually increased our spare capacity from five to eight, which makes us all more comfortable. We have 27 ambulances overall.

We implemented a quality control program in the very beginning. We require that each critical step be inspected by two EVT master certified ambulance technicians and be signed and dated. Once all the critical steps are completed, we move on to perform cosmetic and functional inspections.

 

When we are satisfied with the truck, it goes over to our EMS service where two members of its Support Services Division inspect the vehicle. If they are satisfied, the truck is stocked and put into front-line service.

There is a great deal of pride when each truck is completed, evident by the quality of work performed. Each remounted and refurbished ambulance looks and performs as it did when it was new.

For more information on Sedgwick County’s remount program, contact Boyd Powers at (316) 660-7494 or bpowers@sedgwick.gov.


Remounting Ambulances By The Numbers

The costs:
E-450 Ford Chassis, $25,000
Parts, $11,000
Personnel (overtime), $16,360
Subcontracting (painting and decals), $11,905
Stryker Power Cot*, $12,000
Total Cost: $76,265

The savings:
New Sedgwick County ambulance, $162,729
Remounted and refurbished ambulance, $76,265
Online auction resale of original chassis, $3,500 average
Savings per unit: $89,964
Annual savings at four remounts per year: $359,856

The original goal was to save $1 million, but with the increase in new ambulance prices and the stability in remount prices, $1 million is being saved every three years.

*Since Stryker Power Cots are purchased with all new Sedgwick County ambulances, a new cot is purchased for each remount.

Source: Sedgwick County Fleet Management


The Shop And The Departments

Sedgwick County Fleet Management’s Light Equipment Shop works on all Sedgwick County EMS vehicles, which include 27 ambulances and eight staff and support vehicles. The shop is also responsible for 15 staff and support vehicles from Sedgwick County Fire.

Sedgwick County EMS, which has 240 members operating out of 15 stations, and Sedgwick County Fire, which has 140 members operating out of nine stations, are separate departments that interact on calls outside Wichita city limits. Wichita has its own fire department, which handles calls inside the city limits. EMS operates in both the city and county, covering an area of 1,008 square miles.

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