Originally created 02/22/99

Ambulance purchase debated



AIKEN -- This week, the Aiken County Council will consider what kind of vehicle you might ride in during a medical emergency.

The council is trying to decide what kind of ambulance to purchase for the new Emergency Medical Services station at the Sage Mill Industrial Park. The county administrator's office prefers heavy-duty ambulances on a chassis from International Tractor, but two county council members favor less-expensive ambulances built on a Ford chassis.

Debate began Feb. 9 during a meeting of the council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee. The committee was to decide whether to approve buying a 1992 $30,000 ambulance to replace one wrecked in an accident and a new $129,000 ambulance to be stationed at the new EMS station. Both of the purchases would be Internationals.

District 5 Councilman Phil Napier and District 1 Councilwoman Kathy Rawls -- neither of whom is a member of the committee -- both voiced objections to the Internationals in favor of the smaller F-series chassis.

"I just want to see the county ambulance system upgraded," said Mr. Napier.

The county could get an F-350 ambulance for less than $70,000, Mr. Napier said, citing information he obtained from a vendor that bids on county ambulance contracts. But his estimate did not contain $30,000 worth of gear that was reflected in the bid for the International, according to the administrator's office.

Even adding on the $30,000 of equipment Mr. Napier's bid didn't include would still give the county savings, said Mrs. Rawls.

"Knowing how badly we need ambulances and need new ones, I just can't justify the money," she said.

Both proposals were sent to the full council without any recommendation from the Judicial and Public Safety Committee. The committee also asked for the county administrator's office to compile some additional information, such as price estimates on comparably equipped F-350s, to be distributed to the council.

The following day, County Administrator Bill Shepherd phoned Transmed Industries, the company offering the used replacement ambulance, to tell them the purchase decision had been delayed. Transmed told Mr. Shepherd it had another buyer looking at the ambulance, and agreed to drop the price. So Mr. Shepherd approved the purchase of the ambulance for the price of $24,999, the maximum amount he can write a check for without the approval of the council, Mr. Shepherd said.

District 3 Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie, chairwoman of the Judicial and Public Safety Committee, said Mr. Shepherd told her what he did after he made the purchase, and that she had no objection to his actions.

"I can understand where he was coming from, and comments were made (during the meeting) that this was a very good buy," Mrs. McKenzie said. "We would hate to lose it."

So all that remains for the council to decide is what kind of ambulance to buy for the EMS station at the Sage Mill industrial Park.

But if the county purchases an F-350 or heavier F-450 ambulance, it will limit the duties to which it can be assigned, Mr. Shepherd said. County ambulances need to ride a mix of rural and urban roads, and the county's maintenance records show that the F-series chassis don't hold up as well as the heavier-duty International ambulances, he said. Because the Sage Mill ambulance would service both the industrial park and the surrounding area, a heavier-duty ambulance is needed.

The county currently uses a mix of International, F-350 and F-450 ambulances.

If the county purchased an F-series ambulance, it would likely be stationed near North Augusta or in one of the stations closer to downtown Aiken, where the roads are better, Mr. Shepherd said.

"They'll stay in built-up areas," he said. "If the council wants to buy F-350s, that's where we'll put them."

The Aiken County Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the County Council Chambers at 736 Richland Ave. in Aiken.

Todd Bauer covers Aiken County and business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.