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5 benefits of regionalizing EMS vehicle fleet maintenance

Increasing the number of ambulances in a regionalized fleet maintenance program gives paramedic chiefs more influence with vendors


By Jim Woods, NEMSMA

Regionalizing fleet management, maintenance and supply purchasing and stocking is one of the easiest and possibly least controversial regionalization efforts EMS leaders can implement.

The top benefit of increasing vehicle numbers is to buying power. Every EMS organization should take steps to increase their footprint with their vendors to ensure a fair and diligent working relationship. Any organization that has an influence over others through fleet regionalization and central purchasing initiatives, whether it is direct or indirect, becomes a more valued customer by the vendor community. It is for this reason that once regionalization talks have begun, steps to integrate a shared fleet management program and purchasing department should be considered a top priority.

Fleet regionalization does not need to include layoffs and definitely does not include service capacity reduction. Rather the savings of consolidating a fleet operation is the elimination of duplicative training for the staff as well as the duplicated equipment procured for each vehicle maintenance location.

Generally speaking, EMS fleets are over utilized and plagued with significant down time. Every EMS manager has heard excuses from a maintenance vendor or the ambulance manufacture as to why a vehicle is broken and cannot be used. When an EMS operation joins a regionalized fleet operation, they take the wheel on their ambulance issues. A regionalized fleet facility, correctly setup, has purchasing power to reduce parts costs and the volume of vehicles to fund appropriate technician training and advanced equipment diagnostics. 

Here are five best practices to implement when regionalizing fleet management and maintenance efforts.

1. Reduce duplicated training efforts
A regional vehicle maintenance shop is capable of having a team of technicians who specialize in different tasks. Just like scope of practice is different for an EMT and a paramedic, mechanics have different competency levels which are closely associated with their hourly rate. A regional fleet maintenance operation has the vehicle volume to maintain appropriate staffing at each mechanic level to ensure technician competence and avoid overpaying redundancies.

This might allow for a diesel engine expert, a body repair and painting expert, and a chassis and tire expert to work side-by-side on the tasks they know and do best. For example, the 2010 EPA standards make a vehicle’s exhaust system one of the most troublesome and expensive components to keep in working order. One solution is to have an in-house specialist to repair and update exhaust systems rather than outsourcing the complex diagnostics and repairs that are necessary.

2. Increase the number of vehicles per diagnostic computer
With all of the advanced electronics on board ambulances the computers that technicians use to diagnose problems are extremely expensive. Instead of each local facility owning these expensive computers, the regional facility has the ability to maintain an appropriate ratio of computers to vehicles thus reducing the cost of advanced diagnostics.

These advanced computers also require technicians to master a lot of training. Small-volume ambulance fleet operations are no longer able to make a significant impact in reducing costs when you factor in the additional technician training and equipment that must be purchased in order to work on today's vehicles. 

3. Wholesale pricing on parts purchases
A regionalized fleet maintenance operation can bring in the immediate benefit of business-to-business pricing of vehicle OEM parts. Ford and General Motors have extensive business dealership networks that work solely with private repair facilities to streamline parts ordering and delivery, as well as ensuring extremely competitive wholesale pricing.

4. Increase on-hand inventory of critical parts
Along with taking advantage of business-to-business pricing, regional facilities are capable of internally stocking additional volumes of parts. Anything that can be done to reduce vehicle downtime, such as stocking commonly used items or critical to vehicle operation parts, will increase vehicle up time and reduce the need for backup vehicles.

5. Utilize a full-service tire vendor
There are not many things drivers can do to significantly reduce ambulance tire wear which makes it important to get the best price on tires while also assuring the highest level of safety from those tires. To do this many large fleet operations take advantage of tire vendors who supply new heavy-duty tires along with professionally mounting those tires on the wheel. The completed product — tire mounted on the wheel — is delivered to the regional repair facility to be placed on the ambulances.

In this arrangement the tire vendor is responsible for inspecting the tire and wheel and reconditioning the wheel every time a new tire is mounted on it. This greatly assists with the appearance of the vehicle, as the wheels are now freshly painted, and gives you, the customer, exceptional wholesale pricing.

When these five components are put in place it will greatly assist in the reduction of costs and increase the proficiency of the fleet maintenance operation.

About the author
Jim Woods works for a nationwide full-service truck leasing company. He is a Certified Automotive Fleet Manager and holds many ASE certifications. He got his start in EMS as a paramedic in Jersey City, N.J. and then went on to manage fleet operations for two regional, hospital-based EMS agencies in New Jersey.

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