A new ambulance for the Bossier City Fire Department is not only expected to help save lives but also to save fuel.
Excellance,Inc., an Alabama firm, developed,designed and custom built the ambulance which is solely powered by compressed natural gas. Built on a medium Ford F-650 chassis, it is the first Ford Motor Company QVM (Qualified Vehicle Modifier) approved CNG ambulance in the world and is also the first fully powered CNG ambulance to be placed into service in Louisiana.
Fire Chief Brad Zagone and representatives of Excellance, Inc., briefed Mayor Lorenz Walker and City Council members Tuesday afternoon. The ambulance was displayed outside city council chambers Tuesday afternoon.
Bossier City operates several CNG fuel stations. CNG is more economical than traditional fuel.
Zagone said the city has been working to develop the CNG ambulance for approximately three years but had run into obstacles.
The city typically has four frontline ambulances and three reserves. Each year, a frontline ambulance is replaced and the former frontline ambulance assumes the role of a reserve for a typical ambulance shelf life of about 7-8 years. Plans are to continue adding CNG ambulances to the fleet, so that within a few years all front line ambulances will be CNG and there will be one CNG reserve.
Zagone said the Fire Department plans to keep two diesel-powered reserve ambulances. In the event Bossier City needed to provide assistance to areas suffering natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, Zagone said the diesel ambulances would probably be the best option to send to other areas.
Changing from diesel fuel to CNG necessitated not only a different chassis, but a different ambulance box as well because of the CNG tanks.
“There were some things that we had always wanted to do that this gave us the opportunity to do,” Zagone said.
A major safety advantage of the new design is that backboards, used for example to move accident victims from a wreck, can now be accessed from both sides of the ambulance. When responding to a wreck on the interstate, crew members now would be able to access the backboard from the side of the ambulance away from traffic.
“This ambulance has all the latest medical equipment and technology, the same exact equipment a new diesel ambulance would have,” Zagone said.
The new ambulance will replace Trauma 1 at the main Fire Station, which along with Trauma 6 near the river boats, are the two most frequently used ambulances. Trauma 1 responded to 2,658 calls last year and used about 3,300 gallons of diesel at an average cost of $3.48 per gallon for a total fuel cost of about $11,500. In contrast, the CNG ambulance will use fuel costing about $1.40 per gallon. Zagone said the new CNG ambulance would save about $7,000 a year in fuel costs while a front line ambulance and about $40,000 over the typical six to seven year shelf life. He estimated once the ambulance fleet is converted to CNG, the savings would amount to about $30-40,000 annually.
Although having to use a new ambulance box increases the initial cost, Zagone said theFord chassis actually costs about $5,000 less than the traditional diesel chassis.
Typically, when an ambulance is retired from reserve use, the box of the ambulance is refurbished and repainted and can be mounted on a new chassis. In that way, an ambulance body can be used for as long as 20 years.
The city has had the new ambulance for about three weeks, testing and breaking it in. Zagone said the new ambulance is averaging 8 mpg, compared to 5 mpg for Trauma 1.
Refueling takes about 8-10 minutes, about the same as a diesel ambulance.
Cost of the new ambulance, not counting some equipment, was about $300,000.
Tommy Pugh, Excellance representative, said the ambulance was displayed at a trade show in Indianapolis and drew widespread attention,especially from representatives of states with a large amount of natural gas.
“Everybody focussed on it using compressed natural gas,” Pugh said. “The CNG part got all the attention.”