Texas dept. tries using SUVs for EMS calls

The two-person does not respond to motor vehicle accidents or other roadway incidents or even to emergency calls involving cardiac arrest

By Patrick M. Walker
Arlington Citizen-Journal

ARLINGTON, Texas — When a big red Arlington fire engine rolls up in front of a home for a medical call, residents know help has arrived.

For the city, however, it's a pretty expensive house call.

That's why the Fire Department is conducting a pilot program at Station No. 2 in which it sends an SUV with a two-person squad to certain medical calls instead of a fire engine with a crew of three or four, said Assistant Chief Alan Kassen, who oversees the fire rescue division. Station 2, which serves the east side from roughly Division Street to Mayfield Road, is the city's busiest.

Fuel costs are part of the study, which is expected to last 90 to 180 days. The larger trucks, which run on diesel, get 3.6 miles per gallon, compared with 10 to 12 mpg for the gasoline-powered Chevrolet Suburban used by the squad, Kassen said.

During the first 25 days of the study, the squad had responded to an average of 7.1 calls a day. Over the course of a year, that would be almost 2,600 calls. Based on current fuel prices and the call volume, the squad format could save $4,600 a year just at Station 2, Kassen said.

The Fire Department also wants to reduce the wear and tear on its larger trucks. Under the city's maintenance contract with a private vendor, maintenance costs become the department's responsibility once a firetruck reaches 12 years or 100,000 miles, Kassen said. "The problem is, we're hitting 100,000 miles in the eighth or ninth year," he said. "This program could help us get the full 12 years of service life."

Maintenance on the Suburban costs less than on a firetruck. For example, a set of tires for the SUV might cost $600, compared with $2,000 for the firetruck, Kassen said. "We're just looking for ways to save money, like everybody else in this day and time," Kassen said.

The two-person squad is sent only to certain types of medical calls. It does not respond to motor vehicle accidents or other roadway incidents or even to emergency calls involving cardiac arrest.

"On calls where CPR is needed, we still send an engine with three or four firefighters," Kassen said. "Sometimes we'll send two engines with six to eight firefighters. Those calls are labor-intensive, not only because of the CPR but also because there are family members to comfort."

Republished with permission from the Arlington Citizen-Journal

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