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Health Service District to purchase new ambulance
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Upper San Juan Health Service District (USJHSD) is in the market for an expensive new ambulance. The good news is, grant funding could cover all but about $700 of the approximate $152,200 price tag.

According to district EMT and grant writer Joe Bigley, the district solicited bids for a new ambulance earlier this year, resulting in eight offers ranging between $148,000 and $187,000. Of those submitted, the award-winning American Emergency Vehicles of North Carolina responded with a unit considered most suitable to district needs. It includes a new transport with a base-price of $124,567, plus $27,631 worth of add-on safety features. The total cost, then, is $152,198.

Bigley said the add-ons include, but are not limited to: built in child safety restraints, five-point personal restraint systems, an ambulance data recorder, traffic control devises (which change red lights to green), a rear light bar, side door flashers, and reflective paint.

To help pay for the ambulance, Bigley sought and successfully secured a Colorado EMS Provider Grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health. Though he originally requested $79,552, word of a $78,850 award apparently arrived sometime in the past two weeks.

Bigley has also applied for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in the sum of $72,646. If successful in procuring the full amount there, the district will have to pay just $702 out-of-pocket for the new vehicle. If not, it’ll have to cover $702 plus the difference between the requested amount and what it actually receives.

Given the apparent nature of FEMA grants, however, Bigley suggested the district may end up paying 5 percent of the total cost, or $7,609, for the ambulance. During a monthly district meeting last week, EMS Operations Manager Dave Bronson seemed to agree, saying the AFG was a 5- or 10-percent matching grant, and the district could ultimately pay about $8,000 for the rig.

Both Bigley and Bronson expect a final answer to the FEMA grant request around the first of October. Although, according to Bigley, “If we don’t make it to peer review, we’ll know in August.”

Bigley continued, saying the district is prohibited from obtaining a second state grant to compliment the first one. “We can’t match state with state, or federal with federal,” he explained. “That’s why we applied for one of each.”

When asked what options the district would have in the event FEMA doesn’t honor its request, Bigley said he’d have to find another funding source. “There is a Rural Communities Grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could provide up to $40,000 for an ambulance,” he added. “Especially, now, with stimulus money available.”

Whatever the final answer, Bigley said, the district will likely go back out for more competitive bids from ambulance manufacturers, in hope of finding “a better deal.” He didn’t say whether the district would seek new bids before or after obtaining maximum grant funding.

Meanwhile, Bronson said the state Public Health grant already assured is valid through June 30, 2010, but the district will have to order a new ambulance by January 1. For assistance with design and add-on features, EMS officials are working with Rocky Mountain Ambulance of Denver.

Bronson and Bigley have both said a new ambulance is necessary and, in fact, a second one will likely be needed next year. Bigley explained that two of the district’s rigs are approaching 150,000 miles of service, a level, he said, is a target for retiring an ambulance.

“We put about 32,000 miles on a unit each year,” he explained. “By the time we buy this new ambulance, our oldest one will have about 180,000 miles on it, and another one is close.”

When asked what funding might be available for another ambulance a year from now, Bigley said he could approach the same grant sources again, once the current grants are funded. He suggested money might be available for additional equipment, including ambulances, every year.

The district’s most recent ambulance purchase was in 2006, when it spent about $110,000 for a rig that required numerous alterations to meet district needs. The unit came from Leader Emergency Vehicles of South El Monte, Calif.

“We weren’t really happy with it,” Bigley confessed. “The unit was fine, but it needed changes, and we weren’t real happy with the manufacturer’s response to our requests for modifications.”

At a total price tag of more than $152,000, let’s hope the newest one meets district satisfaction ... even if the district winds up paying just $8,000 or less for it.

chuck@pagosasun.com