The Butler County Commission continued the discussion about the possible purchase of three ambulances

Following the heated discussion at last week’s meeting, the Butler County Commission continued the discussion about the possible purchase of three ambulances on Tuesday morning.

“We have been doing a bit of homework,” began Emergency Management Director Jim Schmidt. “Our hope was that we could find three vehicles that we needed after our discussion last week about the problems with the fleet. To be real honest, we’ve been fairly lucky with this situation.

“The process for seeking out new ambulances began with four vendors. One wouldn’t return our calls or e-mails, one vendor provided a quote, another informed us that there would not be anything available until next year, and the last one offered three brand new demo vehicles to us. They were able to get in touch with the factory and offer two 2013 chassis and one 2014. These models are almost identical to the vehicles we already have on the street in our ambulance fleet.”

The possibility of the dealer paying for the trade-in vehicles made the deal all the more appealing.

“The vendor is well aware of why we’re in the predicament with the Jasper engines,” said Schmidt. “The problem is nationwide and there are a lot of places that are in the same position we are. The bottom line with this vendor is the fact they met our exact specifications. They’re offering three Traumahawk type III ambulances. We will be able to get these units within 45-60 days and our fleet will be in much better shape.”

The original plan with the current ambulance units was to negotiate with Jasper to find a way for the company to buy out the warranties from the county.

“We discovered the Jaspers have a transferrable warranty,” explained Schmidt. “If that warranty goes with the truck, the vendor we have been speaking to will give us an extra $1,000 per trade in. I think it is a wise move because we have spoken with Will (Johnson, county administrator) and the outcome with Jasper wasn’t what we wanted it to be.”

“Jasper was going to offer us $1,000 per truck to buy out the warranties,” explained Johnson.

“We have a much better situation here to get the trucks traded in to the vendor than we would having Jasper buy them out,” said Schmidt. “This way, we would be able to get them out of our fleet and we wouldn’t just be throwing them away. The vendor has indicated that they would be going overseas because they have a market there for them.”

The commission questioned what kind of condition the ambulances were currently in to make them available for trade-in.

“We currently have two ambulances in the shop having their engines rebuilt or whatever Farmers deems appropriate to get them running again,” explained Schmidt. “The people at Farmer’s will be really happy because these ambulances will never have to darken their doorways again. We still have 45-60 days to keep our trucks going.”

“So why can’t they just put new engines in these trucks and continue to use them?” asked Commissioner Peggy Palmer.

“All of these trucks have had multiple engines put in,” said Schmidt. “ One of them is currently on its fourth engine. The best life span that we have come to expect out of these engines is 7,500 miles. Some have been running for less than 2,000 miles before they quit. We’re currently paying $190 even with the warranty for each time the engines are worked on at this vendor’s site.”

“So by trading in four of the ambulances and buying three, you’re proposing taking the fleet from nine vehicles down to eight?” asked Commissioner Jeff Masterson.

“Yes, and with the new purchasing plan, we will not be purchasing a new ambulance until 2015,” Schmidt said. “We’re actually pretty surprised that anyone was interested in taking those ambulances off our hands as a trade-in. We originally thought we would be fortunate to get $4,000 to $5,000 out of these trucks if we sold them locally.”

He went on to explain as a trade-in, the four engines would be eligible for $39,500 if the warranties are transferred. Trucks numbered 88 and 21 qualify for $5,750 in trade-in value each. Truck number 46 qualifies for $13,000 and truck number 13 will qualify for $11,000.

The commission was concerned about repurchasing all the special equipment placed inside the ambulances.

“We have pretty much gone away from buying anything extra,” said Schmidt. “We will include our old cots, but they are the old manual cots that are hard to lift and maneuver. One of the benefits with the new ambulances will be the Stryker Load Management System that will be installed on all the new ambulances.”

The risk of back injuries to paramedics is a real problem in the county.

“One back injury sustained on the job can cost upwards of $100,000 to deal with,” explained Schmidt. “The Stryker system has been shown to greatly reduce back and knee injuries in paramedics and EMS personnel. This is just another added benefit for us if we purchase these vehicles.

“When EMS personnel are routinely attempting to lift a person that is 300 pounds or more into an ambulance, it can be very hard on their backs. This is a great feature and these are quality vehicles offered from a proven manufacturer. The maintenance and service available locally is also wonderful.”

“Why are we not going out for bids with this?” asked Palmer.

“We don’t have time to put specs together for the purchase of these vehicles,” explained Schmidt. “We do not need a custom vehicle to be built for us. If we went that direction, it would be the end of the year before we would see any vehicles. That’s not possible in this circumstance.”

“You’re looking at units that are already in existence,” explained Johnson. “Essentially, we are getting bids, but you’re not buying a brand new vehicle that is designed exactly how you want it. If they were to go that road, they might see a vehicle in eight months.”

The commission then chose to focus their attention on what would have to be installed on the ambulances once they arrived.

“Basically the only thing we will be looking at is installing the radio,” said Interim EMS Director Chris Davis. “The dealership will strip the ambulances and place our logos on them before they’re delivered to us. We don’t really need to be extravagant with expensive detailing on our logos. We will pull our loose medical equipment out of the trucks we are trading in and we will place them in the new trucks. Expense wise, the only expense will be to have a company come in and take the radios from the trade-ins and place them in the new trucks. We would do that in house, but it is a very complicated thing. Trust me, this is not something we want to do ourselves. You place one wrong wire wrong in one of these units and you can just throw that $5,000 piece of equipment in the garbage.”

Unlike the 6.0 liter Jasper engines, the Duramax engine planned for the new ambulances has proven it can withstand the test of time.

“The Duramax has remained the same since 2007,” explained Johnson. “In the beginning, they had a couple problems with an aluminum cap, but they’ve corrected it and they’ve been great, long-lasting engines ever since.”

The issue of funding the ambulance purchase still did not sit well with some of the commissioners.

“How much more will we be paying if we choose to borrow the money for this?” asked Palmer. “I don’t want to borrow money.”

“Depending on how long the term will be, the county would pay $17,000 in interest over four years,” said Johnson. “The interest rate is between 1.3 and 1.4 percent. I would suggest to borrow the money and save our cash. With the inflationary rate, you’ll be exceed that amount very easily with just escalation. You don’t have to determine how to finance this right now. We have time to make that decision because we want to run some numbers.”

Schmidt went on to explain once the new vehicles are placed in the fleet, a new replacement plan for the ambulances will be put into place to ensure this type of mass purchase will not have to be placed again.

“I’d like to see several finance options,” said Commissioner Dan Woydziak. “This gives us 45-60 days to work out the financing.”

“If the commission really wants to pay for the ambulances in cash,” said Johnson, “it could be paid out of the general reserves fund. It’s impossible to take these funds out of EMS. I wouldn’t recommend taking it out of the reserves fund, but we will discuss several options. We just need to place a hold on these vehicles.”

Commissioner Palmer was still showing concern over purchasing the new vehicles.

“When we started in 2008 with the purchase of the first Jasper engines, we kept purchasing them,” said Palmer. “Do we have anything in place so that we’re not going to have to look at these problems again?”

“The vehicles we purchased in 2008 didn’t collapse on us until we had purchased the new vehicles in 2010,” interrupted Commissioner Jeff Masterson.

“All those failures came later,” agreed Davis.

“The average failure rate for the Ford is 110,000 miles,” added Schmidt. “We decided to go to the Jasper, but that turned out to be an even worse decision.”

“The failure rate on the Jasper was 3,500 miles,” added Commissioner Mike Wheeler.

“By trading the ambulances in and transferring the warranty, we’re making it worse for Jasper,” said Johnson. “They came to the table with only $1,000 per vehicle, which we aren’t happy with. The smart thing for them to do would have been to buy out our warranty for more than what they initially offered.”

“When we spoke to the representatives of Jasper, we got some indication that we were not the only ones having the problems,” said Schmidt.

Woydziak moved to approve the purchase of three Traumahawk type III ambulances for the amount of $499,624. The motion was carried 5-0.

“On behalf of all the EMS and emergency personnel, I can guarantee you that there is going to be a lot of people who will really appreciate all that you’re doing,” said Schmidt.

“Thank you again for stepping up and shouldering this burden, Mr. Davis and Mr. Schmidt,” said Wheeler.

The commission also:

• approved the special event permit by the Symphony in the Flinthills Group to allow them to hold their annual event on June 14 at the Gottsch Ranch located just north of Rosalia.

• approved the purchase of the digital alert system on behalf of Sedgwick County in the amount of $6,945 to be purchased with CRI Funds.

• approved the 2014 Non-Competitive Capacity Building Award contract.

• approved the 2014 Cereal Malt Beverage license for the Butler County Saddle Club.

• approved an easement for right-of-way for an existing lift station for Rural Sewer District No. 15, located in the Prospect area.

• approved the right-of-way dedications related to the SW Shumway Road box culvert and roadway realignment project located east of Augusta.

• approved permissions to allow the county to proceed with two county-constructed RAP hot-mix overlay projects for SW 20th Street from SW Ohio Street to SW Haverhill Road and for SW Butler Road from SW 210th to SW 190th St.


Kari Adams can be reached at