Fire Department seeks new life-support units

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published February 20, 2013

 Probationary firefighter Joe Nothdurft sits in the stretcher while firefighters/paramedics Steve Ladouceur and Jason Deneau demonstrate the importance of having room to work inside the unit.

Probationary firefighter Joe Nothdurft sits in the stretcher while firefighters/paramedics Steve Ladouceur and Jason Deneau demonstrate the importance of having room to work inside the unit.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield Fire Department has started the process of replacing its nearly seven-year-old fleet of life-support units with new ones.

On Feb. 25, the matter will go before the Southfield City Council for permission to seek bids for the custom-made ambulance units.

Chief Keith Rowley said that as the busiest department in Oakland County, and considering the units have a life expectancy of just four years, it’s an investment that needs to be made, and he’s hoping the new fleet will be on the road by late fall.

“We’ll be at seven years (old) before the new ones would come in; they were originally supposed to be replaced at four years. … We’ve had a fairly sizable amount of repairs that had to be made over the years and, of course, normal maintenance,” he said. “They are still functioning, but we have to prepare for the future.”

Rowley explained that the current fleet has four units on the “front line,” one at each of the fire stations that cover a quarter of the city. Last year, the department made 12,630 runs, with about 85 percent of them being medical emergencies ranging from slip-and-falls to heart attacks and strokes, car accidents, and other emergencies. In addition to the units responding to the scene of an emergency, Rowley said the 10,000-mile-a-year average adds up when the units then have to transport to local hospitals.

There are a couple of backup units that are about 10 years old that are used as needed, he added, saying the need for the backups is all too common, though.

“The frontline units have been down a number of times over the last year, and we’ve had to bring the backups in. We’ve even had times where we don’t have any backups left,” he said, adding that the backup units usually only accrue about 4,000 miles each year, while the frontline units average about 25,000 each. “We can keep backups longer. Only running 4,000 miles extends its life, which is good for the city.”

Rowley said the hope is to keep the two frontline units in the best condition as the new backup fleet and then sell or trade-in the others. At the Feb. 11 City Council study session, City Administrator Jim Scharret noted that, if the council approves the city to go out for bids, the $700,000 budget for the new fleet would come from the city’s Revolving Equipment Fund.

The current fleet has 130,000-172,000 miles on the units now, and while the matter wasn’t voted upon at the study session, Mayor Brenda Lawrence weighed in on how big of a decision it will be for the community.

“We see some glaring examples of communities who don’t have their finger on the pulse of the equipment needed to take care of their employees. I think, tonight, the fact that we have the funds in our revolving fund, we have a chief that can analyze our equipment (and) we can make sure we have the proper equipment operating, we can plan so that we can continue to have the expectation that we have top-notch emergency services,” Lawrence said.

“We are doing so many things right, and it’s good to have this conversation. While I don’t get a vote, I get a voice, and I am very happy this (conversation) is here.”

By buying the four new units together, Rowley said the process will be more efficient for the city. He hopes to spend less than the $700,000 budgeted, he noted, and said that by buying as a group — possibly placing an order the same time another local community plans to — there will be lower costs, streamlined training for the department and quicker repairs in the future.

Rowley noted that some of the new features of the units include increased safety and comfort for both passengers and the medical personnel. Seat belts, a black box — similar to those in airplanes —and better communication tools are some of the highlights, he said.

“Back when I was a medic, we would be doing CPR and wouldn’t be belted in,” he said. “Safety is always paramount. These units tend to ride different when brakes wear out or tires wear out. They are driven hard, in all emergency situations. We have to have top-notch equipment to keep the community safe, and that’s what we are here to do.”