Ambulance Makers Focus On Safety And Economy

Road Rescue
Road Rescue boasted 40 top-to-bottom changes in its ambulances this year.
PL Custom
PL Custom is introducing curved edges and LED lights in cabinets for safety and convenience. (PL Custom Photo)

An ambulance is an ambulance is an ambulance. That used to be the case, but manufacturers are changing with the economic and safety-minded times, as was evident at the Fire Department Instructors Conference trade show.

Van Wert, Ohio-based Braun Industries Inc. took the concept of change to the extreme, unveiling its new Patriot Fire/Rescue/Transport apparatus. Braun Executive Sales Manager Chad Brown said the Patriot is designed to handle more than 95 percent of a fire department’s EMS and rescue calls. “As we went out in the marketplace, we got requests for a purpose-built rescue ambulance with light fire suppression capabilities,” Brown said. “We know where the economy is today, with fire departments and EMS departments receiving constraints on their budgets, yet that high level of service is still expected and demanded.”

The Patriot carries 250 gallons of water, as well as a compressed air foam (CAF) system with a 10-gallon foam cell. It has two one-inch booster reels, 100 feet on each side. Departments can also connect up 150 feet of 1 1/2-inch hose to the pump as needed. The pump itself is pto-driven. The Patriot can also be outfitted with a pto for rescue tools if a customer is not interested in fire suppression.

Braun-Spartan Partnership

Braun vice president Scott Braun said it’s all about meeting the needs of budget-minded customers. “With the addition of a CAF system on there, giving the ability to suppress a small, light fire, and being able to do some light rescue as well, well that’s certainly a quality solution that has come at no better time than right now,” he said.

 There have been many attempts to pair pumpers with ambulances before, but Braun said the Patriot is unique. “We’ve seen extended cabs and crew cabs and less-than-best attempts at loading patients in the backs of cabs and things like that,” he said. “Really, from the ground up, it had to be an ambulance. We have 37 years of commitment to [our ambulance customers]. Start with the ambulance and figure out the rest from there.”

Braun said the final piece of the puzzle was his company’s new partnership with Spartan Motors, Inc. The Charlotte, Mich.-based company came up with a chassis that provided the right payload and capacity for the job, with an eye toward meeting both National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard for pumpers and federal specifications for ambulances KKK-A-822 (KKK). The NFPA is in the beginning phases of developing an ambulance standard, and Braun said company officials look forward to applying those safety guidelines to their melded ambulance/rescue/pumper design.

Comfort And Capacity

Meanwhile, Braun said Spartan went out of their way to make sure the Patriot combined both comfort and capacity. “We were able to get a truck from [Spartan] that has provisions already in it for heating and air conditioning, and we had a customized suspension on the back that not only dumps to load a patient, it also has a fine-tuned suspension,” Braun said. “I’ll put this up against a Ford E450 any day of the week. It’s hard to believe, looking at the size of this, but I’ve driven it myself and I’ve taken quite a few railroad tracks.”

Brown, the executive sales manager, stressed that the price is right, at about $250,000 depending on customization and add-ons. “If you look at an engine for a half-million dollars, a rescue squad at $250,000 and an ambulance for almost $200,000, you are looking at spending almost a million dollars for three vehicles,” he said. Since most calls these days are EMS, light fire suppression or motor-vehicle-related light rescue, he pointed out the Patriot can handle all of them with lower maintenance and fuel costs than three vehicles.

With ambulance manufacturers adapting to changing safety concerns, Grove City, Ohio-based Horton Emergency Vehicles debuted its Horton Occupant Protection System (HOPS) at FDIC. Horton Marketing Coordinator Martin Malloy said HOPS is the result of 30 years of crash testing. It combines advanced airbag protection, three-point harnesses and a new head cushioning system to protect EMTs and paramedics in the back of an ambulance in the case of a rollover.

Rollover Testing

“We did some impact testing to get a baseline, and then this year we did the actual rollover testing that culminated in the HOPS system,” Malloy said. “It includes tubular airbags and also side-curtain airbags that protect the EMTs. We are also using three-point harnesses in the bench seat, the CPR seat and the attendant seat.”

He provided federal statistics showing rollovers account for up to a quarter of all fatal crashes. “While they don’t make up the highest number of crashes,” he said, “the amount of deaths are much higher than any other kind of crash.”

Horton’s HOPS

Malloy said the HOPS system monitors the speed of the vehicle, the inertia and the angle of the crash before it decides whether to deploy the airbag. It is designed to deploy only in the case of a rollover, not a frontal or side-impact collision. He pointed out that no airbag system will work properly if the occupants in the rear of the ambulance are not seated properly with fastened restraints.

At the FDIC display area for Marion, S.C. -based Road Rescue, National Sales Manager Dennis Trebus was touting new redesigns for Road Rescue’s Ultramedic, Promedic and Duramedic ambulance lines. Trebus said there are more than 40 changes, many focusing on safety and functionality.

“The body now has an extruded frame,” he said. “This is also true on the entrance doors and on the compartment doors. We also tapered the doorframes back, so when it meets the skin, it almost gives it a flush appearance. It makes for a very strong and square door frame.”

Trebus said the exterior doors are lighter and stronger. “With the extrusion, we’ve taken the weather strip from the extrusion side of it and put it on the door itself,” he said. “So now the latches and everything are sealed from the weather.” In addition, he said every door is filled with expanding foam. “So it’s a real solid door that shuts really nice,” he said. “The expanding foam helps in the overall strength because it actually adheres to the door skin.”

Patient-Centered Design

Another improvement, he said, is a new crash-rail fender system that is more impact-absorbent and easy to replace. “The rubber just clips right on,” he said. “So if you ding this up, you can replace it really without any tools.”

Trebus said Road Rescue’s interiors have also changed as part of the company’s patient-centered design program. “We’ve moved the air conditioning vents from the center,” he said, “so they’re not blowing directly over the patient.” Other interior improvements are subtle – such as changes in color schemes, improved door latches and hardware upgrades – but he said EMTs and paramedics would definitely feel them. “Everything should focus on the patient,” he said. “Have the patient in mind and then build everything around that. Not only for the patient, but for the crew members too.”

Also with safety in mind, Goshen, Ind.-based MedTec introduced a new option for its ambulances at FDIC – a bench seat that is mounted at the front of the ambulance, spanning the width of the box, instead of parallel to the side. Spokesman Jim Philips said it’s a safer place to put a second patient and allows for more flexibility and transport options. “Sometimes we need to rearrange the furniture,” he said, “to allow you to remain safe, but also remain in the action.”

The front bench seat works with MedTec’s Action Safe 360 seating products, which allow paramedics and EMTs to rotate in three different positions to better access patients and equipment while still wearing a safety restraint.

Safety and economy also figured into changes made by Manasquan, N.J.-based PL Custom, which displayed ambulances with a seatbelt monitoring device that lets the driver know if someone in back is not properly restrained. In addition, National Sales Manager Chad Newsom said the design of counters and walls was changed to protect the heads of the workers inside. “All of the counters used to be at a 90-degree angle,” he said. “Now they are all curved. We curved the walls as well, so now we don’t have an angled strike point.”

PL Custom has also made changes in lighting and electrical options. “We’ve illuminated all of the interior cabinets with LED rope lighting,” Newsom said. “We’ve also used LED in the ceiling. We are trying to cut down on power consumption.”

Concerns about power also extended to electrical systems, which have three options, beginning with a hard-wired circuit breaker warranted for life. “The second option is we tie into our hard-wired electrical system with a multiplex switch panel,” Newsom said, “And the third system is 100 percent multiplex.”

Reinforcing the safety theme, Elkhart, Ind.-based McCoy Miller brought its side-load ambulance concept back to FDIC this year. The side-load design eliminates more dangerous side facing seating positions for ambulance workers, allowing them to face forward or backward while treating the patient.

McCoy Miller Product Manager Bob Parks said there’s been a lot of interest in the side-load design, but not many orders because people are waiting for the new NFPA standard to be developed. In addition, he said the company has encountered reluctance because most hospital bays are not set up for side-load ambulances and some medics worry about positions for intubation.

Also exhibiting at the show was Life Star Rescue, Inc, a Van Wert, Ohio-based company that caters to economy-minded buyers by specializing in refurbished and remounted ambulances.

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