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Insufficient ambulance facilities concern county officials

BY DANIEL SEIDL | FEBRUARY 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Johnson County’s current facilities for housing ambulances will soon become insufficient if not addressed in the near future.

“New ambulances being purchased do not fit in our existing building,” said Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. “What we’ve been doing is that we have [two additional] locations for ambulances.”

Though these additional facilities — located at the county secondary-roads building and at the Coralville Fire Department — help with the problem, they are by no means a permanent solution. As the county has to replace more ambulances with the newer model, it will run out of space, said Johnson County Ambulance Service Director Steve Spenler.

“Currently, it’s not causing any issues,” he said. “[But] as time goes on and we continue to replace ambulances, [we will run out of space].”

Some other Iowa county officials aren’t facing the same problem because they were prepared for the newer models.

“Years ago, we had a private ambulance provider in the city, and it had some issues,” Muscatine County Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said. “We haven’t had any problems in 15 years.”

The ambulance-storage facilities in Muscatine County are shared with the Fire Department, he said, so space has not been an issue.

Johnson County has only one of the newer ambulances in its fleet, but it will expand this number by one each year. By fiscal 2017, there will be no space to hold the new vehicles. County officials are upgrading the ambulances because Ford stopped manufacturing the model with the diesel engine that is used by the county. The new model, a Ford F-450, costs roughly $175,000 per unit.

Neuzil said though the ambulance-storage problem is important, the county has been focusing on even more pressing issues in past years, such as the renovation/replacement of the Johnson County Jail and Courthouse — proposals hat have failed to pass twice in recent years. This has caused the county to consider scaling back improvements for the ambulance facilities.

“We’ve been planning for several years for a new ambulance building,” Neuzil said. “Given the light of where we are with the courthouse and jail issue, we are rethinking our strategy and looking at more of a renovation. We don’t have as many resources available.”

The supervisors discussed a potential new ambulance facility in November 2012, though they agreed the courthouse and jail were more important. Instead, they are now considering a simpler renovation to the existing facility.

The renovation would add an additional garage to the ambulance storage building, which would accommodate further growth in the future.

The issue of growth is another one that necessitates the expansion, Spenler said. When the current facilities were built, the Ambulance Service was much smaller, and the space is becoming very crowded, he said.

“When we built this facility, we had two ambulances and 20 staff,” he said. “We’re going to have seven ambulances and 50 staff.”


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