Prince George’s County ambulances are getting old and worn out from years of service, and fire officials are purchasing 11 new ambulances, but that number would need to double over the next two years to update the aging fleet.
“While the purchase of 11 more ambulances for the next fiscal year is planned, overcoming the fleet aging issue requires purchasing perhaps twenty per year over the next two years to even out costs and downtime associated with aged units,” said Tony Bizjak, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS apparatus maintenance manager.
Of the county’s 72 active ambulances, about two-thirds are 2006 or 2007 models — the result of a bulk purchase in 2005, Bizjak said. Those units are averaging about 150,000 miles and are getting close to meeting their engine’s total lifespan, which is about 350,000 miles when factoring in engine hours, Bizjak said. Engine hours are accumulated while an engine is active; odometer miles track how far a vehicle has traveled.
The county also has 22 units owned by volunteer companies and an additional 10 vehicles that are currently being evaluated for possible retirement because of damage or excessive maintenance needs, said Mark Brady, county fire/EMS department spokesman.
While the county has proposed ambulance replacement at about seven years, the recommended service life for main ambulances is about three years and reserve ambulances about five years, according to a 2013 report by the nationally recognized fleet consulting firm BDA Global.
The bulk purchase of ambulances has created an issue of a fleet growing old all at once, Bizjak said. There is no national standard in the “fire/EMS community in general,” Bizjak said.
These older ambulances require more maintenance, which means the county has to pull its reserve ambulances into the frontline ranks, Brady said. The county always has about six to 10 ambulances in reserve when other vehicles are under repair, but the county is still looking to replace the older ambulances, Brady said. Ambulances that get older are also rotated to less active areas to minimize the strain on the vehicle, he said.
“When an ambulance’s repairs cost exceeds what the unit is worth, that unit is dead-lined,” Brady said. “There are no times that a station doesn’t have a reserve ambulance. We have a reserve fleet that is ready to go into service at any time.”
The county recently added two new ambulances and plans to add another nine in 2014. Those ambulances cost about $260,000 each, totaling $2.8 million, Brady said. In 2011, another 11 ambulances were purchased, but those ambulances didn’t automatically replace aging units because of new standards that required additional ambulances at stations with more than 4,000 calls, Bizjak said.
The fire department is looking to continue small purchases each year, county fire chief Marc Bashoor said in a statement.
“[The] approved strategy is to purchase 12 to 15 transport units per year to keep the fleet in constant rotation,” Bashoor said.
Those purchases will have to be approved by county officials, which would go into effect July 1 with the new budget. While officials have said there could be budget cuts throughout the county, Brady said the department is confident it will get the equipment it needs based on previous county support.