EAST NAPLES — Just in case some large-scale disaster were to occur with mass casualties, Collier County wants to be prepared.
County commissioners recently gave the county’s Department of Emergency Medical Services the go-ahead to pursue funding from the state to buy a multi-patient ambulance bus for improving response capabilities and saving lives.
“I think it’s a very worthwhile project,” said Dan Summers, director of the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services. “It’s really incredible if you can move 12 to 15 people who need specialty care.”
Summers has submitted paperwork to state authorities for up to $600,000 in state and federal funding to acquire one or two multi-patient ambulance buses. No local funding would be used to acquire the ambulance buses, but would be needed for operating costs.
“I expect to hear by the end of January,” he said. From there, he would need about two months to prepare an order for the customized vehicles, which then would take a few more months to build out. “So I’m six months out.”
He has a team of firefighters, paramedics and hospital staff as a committee looking at different companies that manufacture and customize the buses, which can accommodate stretchers or be changed out for upright patients. The buses can be medium size or large size, and that’s part of the evaluation process for the local team. That also comes into play whether the county would acquire one bus or two.
Summers said Duval and Alachua counties each have the multi-patient transport buses, and he’s aware that EMS jurisdictions in New Jersey, Texas, Atlanta have acquired them or are in the process of doing so.
In Jacksonville, the ambulance bus is shared with other jurisdictions when the need arises and that’s the arrangement in Alachua, said David Donnelly, emergency management director for Alachua County Fire Rescue.
The 42-foot bus has yet to be used, Donnelly said.
“We’ve only had it for the last two months,” he said, adding that it has been stationed in the stadium parking lot at University of Florida football games in Gainesville.
One reason for getting the vehicle was an accident Jan. 29, 2012, on Interstate 75 that involved a string of cars where 10 people died but all 21 patients made it to hospitals. Six of the patients were trauma patients.
Duval County has had its 54-foot ambulance bus for 18 months, and it can transport 20 to 30 patients, or more, depending on the configuration of stretchers used, said Stephen Grant, health and medical coordinator for Duval County’s Emergency Preparedness.
“We haven’t used it for a mass-casualty type (event),” he said. “We do stage it.”
The vehicle has been set up at the Florida/Georgia football game, which brings 90,000 in the stadium and another 10,000 in the parking lot partying, he said. Besides NFL games, Jacksonville also hosts air shows and is home to 1.2 million in the greater Jacksonville region, he said.
Duval purchased the vehicle from Sartin Services Inc., based in High Point, N.C.
Summers said Collier is looking at Sartin and other vendors to evaluate which is the best fit. Collier also would share the vehicle with other jurisdictions, he said.
“It (would be) a shared asset, not collectively owned,” he said.
Summers said he and his staff members are reviewing a post-action report from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 to learn how a multi-patient ambulance bus could have played a role there and potentially here.
“It just makes good business sense from an emergency medical standpoint,” he said.