Administration and Leadership, Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, Training

Know What to Look for before Buying a Rig

Issue 11 and Volume 37.

When it comes to spec-ing an ambulance for your agency, there are many important considerations to keep in mind when thinking about a vehicle that will house numerous patients as well as be your “home” during long shifts. The following 10 guidelines will help you make the most informed decisions for reliability, comfort and safety.

1. Construction: Design and construction should center on safety. How well is the rear module built and what materials and safety features are incorporated?  How do the different vital systems function independently and together?

Know what to look for when it comes to heating, cooling, electrical, etc. Experience and education are important here. Ambulance construction varies widely across the industry. It’s often what’s behind the walls that makes the big difference in a unit’s safety. Education is the key; understanding basic ambulance construction is essential

2. Reputation: What’s the manufacturer’s reputation in the industry and how well will they support the product from the time of purchase and during the next 10 years of its life? Do your homework and call other end users.

3. Service availability: Is there local service available in your area? Does the manufacturer provide detailed service manuals and will they  train your fleet mechanics to repair their products? Prompt service is vital to reduce out of service time which can affect your agency’s ability to response. Companies will train your fleet mechanics to perform warranty work at your own facility.

4. Cost: Carefully analyze the bids and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. You often get what you pay for, so buying low bid may get you the deal of a lifetime and all the headaches of a poorly constructed ambulance that’s out of service a lot due to inferior construction materials or shoddy workmanship. Superior products often justify themselves, which makes it easier to explain the differences in quality to city managers.

5. Word on the street: End users should always be involved in unit design and construction. Form a team of stakeholders; reach out to other agencies using the product; and try demo units similar to what you may buy. Spend some time talking to other care givers who are currently using the product daily. How’s the braking and handling and, most importantly,  how’s the ride in the patient care area?

6. Survey says: Did other users like their purchase and are they happy with the process: sale, finished product, delivery, service and support? Did the company meet their expectations? Usually, if the agency has a fleet of the same type of ambulances and has made  multiple purchases from a manufacturer, you know they’re pleased with the product and  company.

7. Comfort: If you spend a lot of time riding in ambulances you want them to be comfortable and have adequate space for equipment and gear. It should be as roomy, well designed and ergonomically correct as possible. A smooth ride in the patient care area is very important for both patients and clinicians. Imagine making the wrong purchase and being stuck with a poorly designed rig  for the next 12 years or so.

8. Durability: Whatever you buy, it’s got to be tough and durable and hold up to the beating it’s going to take. You can’t afford frequent breakdowns in EMS and changing into a reserve ambulance while repairs are completed is a pain. Your ambulance should be built with the best materials. No substitutions.

9. Driver safety: How will your new ambulance handle in the worst weather conditions? Do you need drop down chains or four wheel drive? Take the time and train your whole staff when your new ambulance arrives. Driver’s training is essential especially if you change chassis manufacturers with your new purchase. Light duty and medium duty chassis perform much differently especially in the snow.  

10. Amenities: Does it have all the amenities that will make users appreciate you new purchase? (e.g. good lighting, comfortable seating,  simple to use controls that are easy to access, back lit cabinets, computer docking station, back-up camera, stereo). The ambulance is a paramedic’s office, and it should be conformable and user friendly.

The next time you’re designing a new ambulance for potential purchase, keep these factors in mind. It may make the buying process longer, but in the end, you’ll end up with a product that’s safe and comfortable for both patients and crew.