Rough Mississippi Ambulance Ride Prompts Review of Ambulance Retro-Fit

County considers retro-fit with “air-ride” suspension.


HENRY BAILEY, The Commercial Appeal | | Friday, February 10, 2012

Odie Lofton lauds emergency officials for their quick action when he called Jan. 7 for help after finding his wife, Mary Lou, unconscious on the floor.

"The response time was great; everyone was very professional," said Lofton, 81.

It was the ambulance ride from his home in the Forest Meadows Subdivision in Hernando to Baptist Hospital-DeSoto in Southaven, with his wife strapped on her back to a gurney board, that riles him.

"That ambulance has the same springs as a truck," the advocate of air-ride vehicles told DeSoto County supervisors this week. "Every second she was strapped to that board was pure agony for my wife."

Lofton's wife suffers from lupus, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

In response to Lofton's urging and that of Supervisor Jessie Medlin, president of the board, county Emergency Management director Bobby Storey will look into air-ride vehicles or retrofits, although he cautions that costs are high and ride comfort may fall short of expectations.

"Air-ride" is a type of suspension, often used in heavy vehicles such as buses and trucks, powered by an engine-driven or electric air pump or compressor. The pump pressurizes the air, using compressed air as a "spring" in place of conventional steel devices. The aim of air suspension is smooth, constant ride quality, with self-leveling.

"I firmly believe the only way the county can give citizens the service they deserve in cases like mine is to provide air-ride systems," Lofton said.

Storey said the county has in its inventory "one ambulance with air-ride suspension, and it's caused us some problems." Among these, he said, "is when it comes down, it stays down."

Also, he said, retrofitting "just the rear" of the eight or nine ambulances across the county with air-ride would cost about $12,500 each.

Lofton said he also regretted that responders had to strap his wife onto the gurney: "All feet don't fit into one pair of shoes."

Storey said the procedure is the emergency protocol where X-rays and other diagnostic tools are unavailable or impractical.

"I agree 100 percent with what Odie says on discomfort, but I'm not sure air-ride will solve our problems 100 percent," Storey said of his longtime family friend. Still, the emergency chief says he'll look anew at providers "and see who offers the best ride."

"Just because we have one that doesn't work doesn't mean we'd get others that won't work," Storey said.

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