Morristown needs a new ambulance.
Morristown Emergency Medical Services has had two ambulances for just over a decade. Voters approved replacing the older one — A2 — in 2018 and the new vehicle went into service several months ago.
But now it looks like the town rescue squad’s other ambulance — A1 — needs a major overhaul just to pass a state inspection, and it may need to be replaced entirely.
Morristown EMS Chief Bill Mapes, who’s been on the job only since February, delivered the bad news Monday to the Morristown Select Board and asked for some direction.
The failing ambulance has about 42,000 miles on the odometer, Mapes told the select board, but about 4,500 hours on its engine, which is actually the equivalent of roughly 268,000 miles. The truck is listed as a 2008, but when the department received the truck that year, it was actually a used cab and rescue compartment placed on a new chassis — a remount, Town Administrator Dan Lindley said.
Mapes didn’t know until Monday night that the truck was a remount; he’s said he’s never had much luck with ambulances like that.
“What I can tell you about remounts in the general EMS industry is that people either swear by them or swear at them,” Mapes said: “I swear at them.”
The 11-year-old ambulance was dropped off at Stowe Road Auto for some work in April, Mapes said, and multiple areas of heavy rust and corrosion were quickly discovered. The rust and corrosion isn’t just underneath the cab and box; it runs fairly high up the sides of the patient-care box, Mapes explained.
“It’s kind of invasive,” he said. That extensive corrosion, combined with such high engine miles, which are a better indicator of use than actual mileage for an ambulance, paint a dim picture for the vehicle’s future.
The truck has had other problems in recent months, too. Shortly after Mapes came on board, the ambulance died on the side of Interstate 89 after the squad transported someone to UVM Medical Center. The rear suspension system for the truck’s passenger box has also had problems.
“It doesn’t do hills, it doesn’t do corners,” Corey Boisvert, assistant chief for Morristown EMS, said Monday night. “A2 is the only safe ambulance we have.”
Mapes said it would cost about $5,000 to fix the most dire problems on the older truck, but there’s no guarantee that will make the ambulance safe and usable again. And, it’s due to be inspected in August.
Mapes said the $5,000 could cover enough body work to make the ambulance inspectable, but there’s no guarantee of that, and “that’s not the only problem with it.”
Board chair Bob Beeman doesn’t think the truck is fixable, but wants a second opinion from an expert.
Other board members questioned the wisdom of throwing money at a truck in such rough condition, a sentiment Mapes seconded. He has a new, state-of-the-art lift system for the ambulance that cost $20,000, and he isn’t keen to stick that system into a failing truck.
“The stretcher system is probably worth more than the truck,” Mapes said. He had other options for the board to consider, including buying or leasing a new vehicle for $225,000 — about the price of the truck approved in 2018.
Another brand new truck would greatly reduce maintenance costs for several years and mean Morristown’s EMTs were working with the same standard equipment on both vehicles, but the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 has already been set, and there’s no money in it for a new ambulance.
The select board could ask voters later this year to approve the money. If the board waits until town meeting next March, a new ambulance likely won’t arrive until the fall or winter of 2020-21, Lindley said.
Board member Eric Dodge said repairing the ambulance would be like “putting a Band-Aid on an open wound,” and money is another problem.
“I’m having a hard time with any of those options,” Dodge said.
Other options could include a used truck, a demo vehicle, or maybe a borrowed ambulance.
Could Morristown do without a second ambulance?
Mapes is against it. He has spent decades working for ambulance services of all sizes, and Morristown “is right at the call volume where having a second ambulance is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
“When you need that second truck, by God you need a second truck,” Mapes said.
“I think going down to one ambulance would be detrimental,” said Shawn Goodell, Morristown’s fire chief. Several of Goodell’s firefighters have become certified EMTs with the rescue squad, and nearly the entire fire department is qualified to at least drive the ambulances on calls, helping to increase the number of times Morristown EMS can send out both trucks.
“I do not know of a one-truck service in the state of Vermont,” Mapes added. And, with just one ambulance, “something as simple as an oil change for the primary means I don’t have a truck.”
The board directed Mapes and Boisvert to look into borrowing an ambulance for a short time, and to have an expert give a firm estimate for fixing the decaying ambulance.