As the obesity rate grows, Bernalillo County firefighters now have a gurney that can handle even the heftiest of patients - up to 1,600 pounds.
The county's Fire and Rescue Department on Thursday showed off the first of three bariatric rescue units it's purchasing.
They're the first of their kind in the metropolitan area, the county said.
The ambulance-like units feature a heavy-duty gurney that's twice as wide as standard ones, and a rampand-winch system can pull the gurney into the rescue unit.
The current gurneys can handle patients up to 600 pounds.
Fire officials can't say how many patients exceed the 600 pounds, but they say the new gurney will help transport all large patients because of the winch.
County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins said the equipment will make transportation safer for both the patients and the firefighters who lift them into the unit.
More than a third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"That's an issue our firefighters have to deal with every day," Hart Stebbins said in an interview. "There is a need for specialized equipment."
The vehicles cost about $254,000, only $4,000 more than a regular rescue unit. They will be put into regular service, so they'll get plenty of work regardless of how often firefighters encounter a large patient who warrants the larger gurney.
"It's not just sitting there in case we have a bariatric emergency," said Larry Gallegos, a spokesman for the county fire department.
He wouldn't predict how many patients will end up needing the system.
It "could be one a week, a month," Gallegos said.
The first of the bariatric rescue units will be housed at Station 33 on Barcelona SW, though it will be available elsewhere if needed. The North Valley will receive a similar unit later this year, and the East Mountains will get one in 2014.
Gallegos said the purchases are part of the county's regular program for replacing rescue units.
The heavy-duty gurneys will be helpful for large patients, even ones who aren't necessarily obese, Gallegos said.