The purchase price of the new ambulances was a concern for the commissioners

After experiencing a number of problems with the current engines in the EMS ambulances in Butler County, the County Commission welcomed Interim EMS Director Chris Davis and Butler County Emergency Management Director Jim Schmidt to speak about the planned course of action during their meeting Monday morning.

"We’ve had an issue with these Jasper engines and they need replaced," said County Administrator Will Johnson. "We originally purchased these ambulances thinking the 6 liter engines would work out well for us, but they are spending more time in the shop than they are in the field. They're routinely breaking down. It is very rare that one of these vehicles will make it more than three weeks without something going wrong. We've been trying to do our best on how to keep these ambulances in service. We need to look at replacing some of these ambulances and finding a way to do that so it does not impact us."

That is just part of what the EMS department is dealing with right now.

"Last week, the last of the EMS administration gave me his resignation," said Davis. "He was offered a job in the private sector that dealt directly with his master's degree.”

He went on to talk about the vehicles.

“The repair garage that we're constantly taking these problems to is losing $3,500 per engine replacement,” he said. “They're not happy about it."

"So they're not reimbursed for swapping that motor out?" asked Commissioner Jeff Masterson.

"They're compensated to a point, but they eat anything beyond that," explained Johnson.

"Realistically, we need to get our fleet to where we never have to buy another replacement engine," said Schmidt. "When you buy just an engine, you're essentially throwing money down the toilet. These diesel engines do not have the longevity they were expected to have. The 6.0 liter engine chosen was a bad choice for the ambulance industry. There have been a lot of issues going on with Ford with their diesel engines."

The commission began to express concern on the lack of return value on the defective ambulances.

"We are researching what we can do to get the trucks out of our fleet," explained Schmidt. "Will has been doing research as to how we can do just that. We need to find replacement ambulances. The amount of time that it will take to find an ambulance, spec it and prepare it for use in our fleet, we will be talking about this happening next year. If we spec out a demo ambulance, it'll at least give us some breathing room to figure out what we can do."

"Our program has been to try to buy one per year, but we went through a four-year period that we bought five of the six-liter trucks which don't have the longevity," said Johnson. "Those engines are quitting on us before the 100,000 mile mark. The new EPA standards have changed things and that's when the bottom fell out.

"The difference between the six and 7.3 liter engines are very significant," said Schmidt.

"With the Chevy chassis, we're going to save $30,000 to $40,000 over the International chassis," explained Johnson.

Commissioner Ed Myers brought up the most recent ambulance purchase as a possibility.

"There are some very good things associated with the ambulance we recently purchased," said Schmidt. "It works well for us. We haven't had any maintenance issues with it and it was well received with the crews. Finding the same ambulance in a demo format is going to be a big challenge."

"How many of our trucks are still running?" questioned Commissioner Peggy Palmer.

"Currently we have two trucks running," said Schmidt. "Three of our trucks are currently getting repairs. In any type of emergency situation, we can bring crews in and we will not have anything to put them in."

"None of the Ford ambulances still have the original Jasper motor," commented Johnson. "One of them is on its fourth motor."

"From what we have seen, Ford is not even doing anything with the six-liter motors any longer," said Schmidt. "What I'd like to do is get past this and get to where we can get some good rolling stock on the street. Even doing preventative maintenance is a nightmare. We have a few ticking time bombs that could bite us any day. We're putting off maintenance. We're going into where we will be facing one crisis after another."

The purchase price of the new ambulances was a concern for the commissioners.

"We're going to try to find models at $185,000 and below with the Chevy chassis," explained Schmidt. "We have a local vendor that we've used a lot in the past. I've known him for over 30 years. We have another vendor that sold us the last ones. I think we can accomplish this task in a short time."

"We're talking about $185,000 for three trucks?" asked Commissioner Mike Wheeler. "Are these brand new trucks?"

"You're not going to find a new ambulance out there because everybody is in the same situation as we are," explained Schmidt. "We owe these folks out here. We really need to get this rolling."

The means of purchase of the new ambulances became a new source of discussion.

"By taking advantage of the purchasing power and trying to buy three, I can issue temporary notes for less than a lease purchase that would give us a two-year buffer," explained Johnson. "We could finance that out over a three-year period at a relatively low interest rate."

Schmidt assured the commission the outstanding issues would not be set aside.

"We are going to come back and put together a plan to get this back into a cycle where we will not be doing this bulk purchasing again," assured Schmidt. "We're going to need to look at this whole fleet. If we get those three six-liter engines out of the every day fleet, we will have some breathing room to work on them."

"One new ambulance would not be sufficient right now," agreed Masterson.

"The problem is we had a couple years where we didn't purchase a new ambulance and one year we were short on cash so we opted instead for a chassis rebuild," explained Johnson. "When we did purchase vehicles, we purchased the six-liter engine vehicles which have had numerous problems. If we didn't have those, we would probably be looking at the purchase of only two ambulances."

Palmer then asked if it would be possible to simply replace the engine.

"The boxes and chassis are manufactured in such a way that they don't convert," explained Johnson. "The wheel axles aren't going to be the same. Most likely, we will just be out that money. We might get $2,000 to $3,000 out of the trucks if they are sold as BBQ trucks."

The possibility of hiring out the ambulance service was also brought into question.

"Are we required to provide an ambulance service by statute?" asked Wheeler. "Some counties hire out their services."

"There are issues with hiring out that service," explained Schmidt. "What we need to do is get to where we are managing this system and to where we can have a fleet that serves us well."

"Are we going to have any kind of return in our investment?" asked Palmer.

"We're going to attempt to negotiate a settlement with Jasper because they do have a warranty on them," said Johnson.

"All I need is some marching orders to go out and find three usable trucks," said Schmidt.

"Are there options other than temp notes?" asked Palmer. "Can't we just use cash?"

"You can use cash, but with the interest rate this low, it would not benefit us at all to do it," said Johnson.

"This is the equipment we're using to pick up our friends, neighbors and families," explained Schmidt. "We want them to have properly working equipment. We have already had one critical patient that the drivers were forced to baby the ambulance all the way to the hospital. We would rather not ever have to do that again."

The commission advised Schmidt and Davis to seek demo model ambulances for purchase for the current EMS fleet.

"I want to thank you, Jim and Chris, for shouldering this burden on top of all your other duties," said Wheeler.

"It is an honor to be entrusted with a duty as important as this," said Davis.

The commission also:

• received an Economic Development Loan update.

• updated the permit modification application process for the Butler County landfill.

• approved the modifications to the Butler County Pay Plan.

• approved a funding request for the 2014 Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt.

• approved an annual fee agreement with Willis.

Kari Adams can be reached at