Feds Update Ambulance GSA Specifications

Editor’s Note: Mark Ober, who has 31 years experience in fire and EMS service, is the chief of the Anderson Township (Ohio) Fire and Rescue Department. He is also an instructor teaching apparatus and driving safety, incident command and advanced cardiac life support classes. He is co-chair of the Southwest Ohio Incident Management Team (IMAT) and a member of the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Team, assisting with its foam apparatus and operations.

Are you an ambulance chaser? Not the person who runs to the scene of an accident as a “rubber-necker,” but the fire and rescue service professional who is chasing down facts and figures regarding current federal ambulance specifications?

If you’re an “ambulance (information) chaser” like I am, then take a minute to sort out the facts and figures related to current specification updates.

Recently, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) made some changes. The new standard, KKK-A-1822F, took effect Aug. 1, 2007, and it supersedes KKK-A-1822E, the document for ambulance specifications that was dated June 1, 2002. Prior to that, the last time it was updated was November 1994. Even if you are just starting in this field, it won’t take you long to figure out that great strides have been achieved.

So for starters, let’s compare the last document to the new one. First off, the current document is only 67 pages compared to its previous version of more than 110 pages. The purpose of the document is to address the minimum requirements for new automotive Emergency Medical Services (EMS) ambulances that are build on original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs) chassis for use as ambulances. A simplified worksheet is provided.

The layout of the new standard has a somewhat similar design to the old. It begins with the key changes label under the “scope” section. The “scope” definition has been altered to address the emergency medical provider and one patient located on the primary cot where intensive life-support may be given during transport. The definition had previously referenced that more than one cot could be used. Under “patient compartment” it said two litter patients, one located on the primary cot and the other on the squad bench could be transported.

The change in the definition, essentially limiting the number of litter patients to one, permits the use of captain-style seats strategically placed in the patient care compartment, providing more headroom and better restraints. Of course, this increases the number of ambulances needed when multiple patients with minor injuries are encountered.

The next section addresses the main objective, or “purpose,” of the document, which is to provide ambulances that are not only nationally recognized, but are properly constructed and easily maintained. This section not only makes it easier for the people specifying ambulances, but also for the manufacturers because both have a common document from which to work.

The next section, which is Applicable Documents, not only has additions, but it has new publications referenced as well. Since 2002, the federal standard has added laws and regulations, such as the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 29 CFR 1910.7, the definition and requirements for a nationally recognized testing laboratory; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (USFDA) 21 CFR 820 standard for a quality system regulation; and the Federal Communication Commission’s standard 47 CFR, Part 90 for public safety radio services.

Reviewing these additional new standards were definite eye openers to me.

An addition under the “other publications” section is one that really brings the fire and ambulance industry a bit closer together – two National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) items. For the first time, NFPA’s Pamphlet 70 National Electric Code standard and the NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus are listed in the GSA document. Both are excellent references.

References to the codes and standards keep the document from growing in size. They also give the ambulance specifiers the concept of what it take to manage fire apparatus fleets.

The new document takes a huge leap by including the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2498 standard for the Minimum Performance of the Warning Light System Used on Emergency Vehicles in its Standards and Recommended Practices category. The addition of this standard will keep the specification writer and all the bidders, again, on the same playing field.

The next major change is the section under the title of the “National Truck Equipment Association/AMD.”

Head Clearance Zones

The first 15 chapters have been referenced in the past, but the major change is the areas from chapters 16 through 25.

The sections address the patient area’s size with measuring guidelines specified for load tests, siren tests and perimeter illumination tests. One of the major guideline areas is found in the last chapter. It concerns the measurements for occupant head clearance zones. In the past, as experienced drivers and attendants know, we’ve worked in some really cramped areas. This is a welcome guideline change.

The final changes include the addition of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards covering specifications regarding: retro-reflective sheeting for traffic control; fully-formulated glycol base engine coolant for heavy-duty engines; practice for operating salt spray (fog) apparatus; and acceptability of electronic assemblies.

Weight Guides

Now that we’ve examined the background of changes to documents referenced, let’s look at the requirements section where weight guides were added to the types of ambulances. The types as listed did not change, but the section added to the type specifications were the weight classifications; this includes the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The new GVWR ratings are:


  • Type I ambulance – 10,001 to 14,000 pounds.
  • Type I AD (additional duty) ambulance – 14,001 pounds or more.
  • Type II ambulance – 9,201 to 10,000 pounds.
  • Type III ambulance (cutaway van) – 10,001 to 14,000 pounds.
  • Type III AD ambulance – 14,001 pounds or more.



The next area of change is under the weight distribution section where explanations were added that tell the purchaser and the final stage ambulance manufacturer (FSAM) that vehicle-mounted equipment must be laterally balanced from side to side and front to back.

The weight between both sides shall be within 5 percent of each other, and the front-to-rear weight distribution not less than 20 percent of the total weight on the front axle and not less than 50 percent or more than 80 percent on the rear axle. Balancing increases handling and ride performances and most of all, it improves mobility especially when braking or making maneuvers on slick roadways.

Regarding safety issues, the voltage requirement that governs the shape of the master module disconnect has changed from 115 volts to 125 volts.

Under the doors section, the new GSA document states ambulances shall have a reflective device, having at least 60 square inches of total reflective area. The reflective material or device must be installed on the interior of the rear doors and positioned to provide maximum visibility when the doors are fully in the open position.

All seating shall provide for the vertical overhead clearance measurement of 43 inches eliminating those cramped locations.

The new GSA document has some surprising stuff too. For example, the spare tire is no longer required. Also, under the electrical sections, the biggest change noted was the addition of the radio frequency (RF) grounding to minimize interference.

The once-recommended portable suction aspirator was removed from one section and it was added to the section on Additional and Optional Equipment to assist the purchaser in determining the type and configuration of any equipment that might be required.

The authors of the new ambulance specification document deserve kudos for assisting the industry with a document that addresses safety for both the patients and the operators.

The entire document is free and available for downloading from the Internet at the GSA Web site.

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