Ill. city council to donate ambulance to Cancun

After a change of heart by three council members, the Naperville City Council reversed course agreed to donate an 11-year-old ambulance to their sister city of Cancun, Mexico


Suzanne Baker
Naperville Sun, Ill.

The Naperville City Council reversed course this week and agreed to donate an 11-year-old ambulance to Naperville's sister city of Cancun, Mexico.

In early October the council voted 5-4 against a measure to waive the city's procurement policies that would have allowed the ambulance to be donated. Because the council was waiving city code, at least six votes in favor were needed.

But council members Judy Brodhead, Patrick Kelly and Benny White, who were in the opposition Oct. 6, had a change of heart, and the council voted 8-1 Wednesday to donate the vehicle.

Mayor Steve Chirico said the city provides donations in the form of grants to the community all the time.

"We have money that we give out through Special Events and Cultural Amenities (SECA): 2 million bucks a year," Chirico said. "In addition, we earmark about $500,000 the city gives out to social service agencies throughout Naperville, and so we have been supportive of nonprofits and provided charity resources for many, many years."

He said donating an ambulance is not in conflict with how the city usually helps others.

The lone dissenter, council member Theresa Sullivan, said she doesn't mind giving the ambulance away, but she'd like to see more transparency and equity in the process.

"I'm really glad that Naperville is able to donate an ambulance to Cancun tonight, and I think that it's going to save a lot of lives and so it's worth doing," Sullivan said Wednesday. "But it's because of the way that all of this has gone down that concerns me, and I think it could concern others."

She said in order to donate the ambulance, the council had to overturn previous decisions and maneuver around the city's procurement code, which she says isn't right.

There is a transparent process, Sullivan said, for charities and individuals receiving money through social service grants and the SECA program. She said that does not exist with the donation of the ambulance.

"We can do both of these things. We can give away assets that we no longer need, and we can do it through using an equitable process that doesn't overturn past decisions and our own codes," Sullivan said.

Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said he's started work on improving policies for donating fire equipment that provides transparency and ensures all groups accepting the donation picks up transportation costs.

Cancun can take delivery within the next 30 days, he said. The city in Mexico also is paying to transport the aging vehicle from Naperville.

Puknaitis said the city bought the 2010 International Medtec series 4300 ambulance in October 2009. It was deployed to Fire Station 10 on 95th Street just west of Route 59 for seven years until the vehicle became a reserve ambulance four years ago.

The ambulance was driven for 51,161 miles and has 4,124 engine hours.

The $268,800 cost of buying a new Foster Coach ambulance was approved in February and built into the 2020 budget. The company offered a $7,000 trade-in on the old one.

Willing to donate the vehicle instead of taking the trade-in value, Puknaitis said his department put out feelers with other agencies in the state to see if anyone was in need of a used ambulance.

With grants available to help cover new ambulance purchases, Puknaitis said no one in Illinois was interested. But Cancun, the recipient of a previously donated Naperville ambulance and fire truck, was.

An Oct. 14 letter from Cancun Fire Chief Thomas Hurtado urged council members to reconsider their Oct. 6 decision.

"As you are aware, the already donated ladder truck and ambulance have been put in service in our fire stations and been able to help the firefighters perform their work in a much safer manner," Hurtado said in the letter.

He wrote that his fire department is provided a minimal budget through local and federal governments to maintain operations for five fire stations.

The population of Cancun is more than six times larger than Naperville, which has 10 fire stations.

Hurtado said most of Cancun's fire vehicle acquisitions have been through donations made by fire departments in the United States, and the first ambulance from Naperville responds to calls every day.

Before receiving the first Naperville ambulance, Hurtado said his department relied solely on privately owned, for-profit ambulance companies.

"At times we have to wait more than 20 to 30 minutes for them to arrive on the scene. Adding a second unit will help make us even more prepared to provide medical service to the community and get a person in need to the hospital much faster than waiting for private ambulances," Hurtado said.

The Cancun chief went on to write how his department lacks the funding to purchase any fire medical apparatus or equipment, new or used.

"However, if there is a possibility to obtain this unit. I know, it would be of great benefit to our department, citizens, and visitors from all over the world," he said.

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(c)2020 the Naperville Sun (Naperville, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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