GARDINER — The first of two new ambulances was put in service in Gardiner this week and the second one is not far behind.

Officials say the purchase, which totals about $500,000, will improve safety and travel in inclement weather for the ambulance service that serves the southern Kennebec County city and seven other communities.

“These are new from the ground up,” Gardiner fire Chief Al Nelson said.

The ambulances are built on  four-wheel drive truck bases and have new patient care areas, which makes them more sturdy and rugged, Nelson said.

“Having that four-wheel drive capability is going to be huge,” Nelson said. “Inevitably, two or three times a year, we have to go and tow an ambulance out of a driveway because it just couldn’t get out of a driveway.”

The ambulances they are replacing have patient care areas that date back to 2006 that were installed on 2012 van chassis. The life of an ambulance can be extended by installing a patient care box on top of a new chassis, and that has already happened with the Gardiner ambulances.

Even so, they are experiencing problems of age and wear. One of the ambulances had blown a head gasket, Nelson said, and both have been in accidents. That’s had an effect on maintenance costs.

“They both have 175,000 on them, and those weren’t easy miles,” he said. “So you have 175,000 miles on them, but how many engine hours are on them?”

The City of Gardiner recently got a new Dodge Ram 5500 four-wheel drive rescue unit seen on Friday outside the Gardiner Fire Station. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The ambulances being replaced didn’t have meters to log engine hours, but ambulances idle when responding to calls, at hospitals after transporting patients and at fire calls. That means the engines have more wear on them than the miles driven would suggest, he said.

The Gardiner Ambulance Service, which is staffed by Gardiner firefighter/paramedics, runs on an enterprise fund, which means it’s supported by the fees it takes in from the communities it serves and revenue generated by ambulance calls in those communities — Gardiner, Farmingdale, Litchfield, Randolph, Richmond, Pittston, West Gardiner and part of Chelsea.

Nelson said because the ambulance service has paid off a lot of debt recently, the member towns are expected to see very small increases in their annual payments this year as a result of the purchase. Each costs $256,721. The trade-in value of the old ambulances was $5,000 each.

Among the earliest towns to vote on the ambulance service fee is West Gardiner, where the Town Meeting and election is March 21.

Selectman Greg Couture said only a small increase appears on West Gardiner’s Town Meeting warrant.

“I haven’t heard any comments to the negative,” he said. “I guess no news is good news.”

Gardiner firefighter Gary Hickey points out a timer that’s in the department’s new Dodge Ram 5500 four-wheel drive rescue unit Friday at the Gardiner Fire Station. The timer can be used for pit crew CPR, where the rescuers swap off giving compressions every two minutes. Above the timer is a camera so that the driver can see what’s happening in the back. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

The Gardiner Ambulance has a third ambulance, which is newer than the two being replaced, and it has been used more heavily as the two older ones were out of service so much.

“It’s a 2016, and I hoping to stretch it out a little bit,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to add to our capital debt right now until we have the opportunity to pay some of it off.”

There’s another reason to delay the purchase of a third ambulance. Nelson said three of the new-style rescue vehicles will not fit in Gardiner’s fire station on Church Street because they are longer.

“I don’t know what the options are I will have to look at,” he said. “When the building was built, they didn’t have three rescues. Our needs have created our space issues.”

The second of the new ambulances is expected to arrive at the beginning of March.


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