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Ambulances Tap into Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- People looked at Terence Ramotar like he was crazy last spring, he said, when he suggested putting a solar panel on the roof of an ambulance.

The idea is now a reality. On Monday, Sunstar Emergency Medical Services will roll the first of its two solar-powered ambulances into service in what appears to be the first such project in the nation.

The solar panels do not power the vehicle, but rather supply power to recharge the batteries for various life-saving devices.

The idea seemed natural to Ramotar, director of support services at Sunstar. "We live in Florida. There is a sun. I said, 'Let's look at solar.' "

Because of advances in emergency medical technology, ambulances carry many electronic devices. The batteries for these devices often run out before the end of a 12-hour shift. The solar panels will recharge them.

For example, the panels will charge the power-operated stretchers, as well as laptops, cardiac monitors and radios that the paramedics have come to depend on.

At the moment, the ambulance company spends a lot of time shuttling fresh batteries out to its crew. One full-time position is dedicated to managing the batteries, Ramotar said.

The solar panel is mounted on the roof of the ambulance. It is 3 feet by 2 feet and weighs about 10 pounds. The cost for the device and installation is roughly $4,000. A modest sum compared with the $114,000 it costs to buy each ambulance.

Ramotar collaborated with Rudy Greul, fleet manager at Sunstar. They tested the solar panels and then took the idea to their ambulance manufacturer, North Carolina-based American Emergency Vehicles.

The manufacturer custom-fitted the panels to two new ambulances, one of which has been delivered.

"It's the first one we've ever done," said Jody Richardson, Florida account manager for American Emergency Vehicles. "It definitely opens up new possibilities."

Ramotar and Greul hope to spread the technology to the fleet of 64 ambulances and beyond.

"If this thing works," Ramotar said, "we think this will be the wave of the future."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.comor (727) 445-4157.

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