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Ambulance Remount Program Saves FirstHealth Money

| Date Posted: 11/5/2013

FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance

Eight members of the FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance team are pictured at the Fleet Maintenance campus in Star. Pictured are (back row from left) Ricky Richardson, Philip “Barney” Latham, William David Morris, Larry Gadd and David Cagle; and (front row from left) Denise Williams, Larry Frye and Ron Cagle.

Fleet Maintenance

Ten-year Fleet Maintenance employee David Cagle (left) and recent hire Ron Cagle comprise the basic remount staff, but every one of the department’s maintenance employees touches a refurbished ambulance before it leaves the lot.

FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance
Larry Gadd (kneeling) and Larry Frye (under the vehicle) work on an ambulance that is being refurbished

STAR – Time, use and the occasional deer are an ambulance’s worst enemies.

And ambulances are not inexpensive. A new Type III EMS ambulance costs FirstHealth Regional EMS almost $130,000. The more sophisticated requirements of a new Type III Critical Care vehicle add nearly $38,000 to the basic cost.

When members of the multi-talented staff of FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance put their various skills to work, however, they can mount and refurbish an ambulance body onto a new cab and chassis for almost half the money, saving the organization more than $200,000 a year in ambulance replacement costs. The result is a vehicle that is for all practical purposes new.

“Our goal is for the trucks to leave here as close to new as we can possibly make them,” says Ricky Richardson, director of FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance.

Located in Star, just off US 220 Business, FirstHealth Fleet Maintenance is responsible for every licensed vehicle in the FirstHealth fleet – from the Toyota Matrixes used to make lab runs to the three road tractors that move mobile MRI and Cardiac Cath Labs.

Fifty-two ambulances make up the bulk of the fleet, so ambulance replacement is a regular need.

“On a 200,000-mile service life, running 1,642,599 miles per year, we have to buy 8.21 ambulances to keep up,” Richardson says.

That doesn’t account for the occasional accident, some of them occurring as a driver attempts to avoid or actually hits a deer in the largely rural FirstHealth service area. At $130,000 to $168,000 a vehicle, ambulance replacement represents a considerable line item in the annual FirstHealth budget, hence the value of a workable remount program.

During the early days of the FirstHealth EMS service, from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, every acquired ambulance in the fleet was used – purchased from a dealer and then farmed out to various vendors (from New York to Georgia, depending on who happened to be available) for remount and modification.

In 2007, the decision was made to begin replacing the second-hand remounts with brand new vehicles that were made-to-order according to FirstHealth-determined specifications.

Now that all of the old remounts have been replaced with the new trucks, the decision has been made to remount the now-aging new ones – but this time using the department’s staff to do the work. With careful planning and budgeting, the change has required the addition of only two full-time employees and modest capital funding for facility changes and equipment.

The result has been a decrease in the necessary number of new ambulances over the past three years: from seven in 2010 to three in 2012.

Ten-year employee David Cagle and recent hire Ronnie Cagle comprise the basic remount staff, but every one of the department’s maintenance employees will have touched a refurbished ambulance before it leaves the lot. Each man brings a skill set to the Fleet Maintenance department that has contributed to the practicality of the remount program.

Their varied backgrounds include electrical work, cabinet-making, floor installation, mechanics, and heating and air – not to mention attention to detail.

“We’ve got all kinds of skills sets being brought to the table,” says Richardson. “It takes everybody working together to make this happen.”

About 1,200 manhours goes into each remounted truck, “depending on how much refurbishing work is required.

Richardson reports to Donna Strong, regional director of FirstHealth Regional EMS, who recognizes the importance of the remount program to the success and continued viability of EMS in all of the communities FirstHealth serves.

“This program, which has added jobs to the community, would not be possible if not for the expertise of Ricky Richardson and his talented staff,” Strong says. “They have saved FirstHealth a great deal of money each year by stepping up to the plate and taking on these new responsibilities. They’re doing a fantastic job.”

FirstHealth of the Carolinas provides EMS services in Chatham, Montgomery and Richmond counties in North Carolina and in Chesterfield County, S.C. The system also includes Medical Transport in Moore County, wheelchair vans in Montgomery and Hoke counties and a Critical Care Transport operation. As a result of an agreement with Med1, the EMS provider in Hoke County, a FirstHealth-owned and -staffed ambulance is stationed near the Emergency Department entrance of the new FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital-Hoke Campus for critical transports to other facilities.

With 250 employees, FirstHealth Regional EMS is one of the largest ambulance systems in the two Carolinas and covers more than 3,200 square miles.

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