November 27, 2014

County tables discussion on propane powered ambulances

EMS director says switch to propane could save money

Jay Ogden
Jason Beck, ambulance emergency service director for Oscoda County EMS, discusses the potential cost savings of having two propane ambulances in the county fleet as a cost-saving measure, during a meeting of the Oscoda County Commission Nov. 26.

MIO – A decision on whether to add propane powered ambulances to the county’s fleet of four vehicles run by Oscoda County EMS was tabled during a meeting Nov. 26 by the Oscoda County Board of Commissioners.

Ambulance Emergency Service Director Jason Beck presented the proposal and bids from companies to the county commission to replace ambulances in the fleet with the propane vehicles. Currently the county’s four ambulances run on diesel fuel.

In the low bid, which amounted to $569,746, ambulances would be replaced with new propane vehicles, and two more would be remounted, meaning the existing ambulance equipment would be refurbished and placed on brand new vehicle chassis. Those vehicles would also run on propane. Under the bid it would be an additional $12,000 to get diesel ambulances.

Beck explained that he thought the county could save money on fuel costs by switching to ambulances that ran on propane. He hoped the switch would also balance the EMS budget and get it out of the red in the future.

He said the county could enter into a contract with an area propane provider and get a set cost for propane at roughly $2 a gallon. The day of the meeting diesel prices were up to almost $4 a gallon; gasoline was $3.39 at downtown Mio gas stations.

Beck said the propane engines – which could also run on gasoline if needed – would be very cost efficient.

As far as filling up the ambulances, EMTs would use a propane filling station that would be installed at no cost to the county at the county ambulance barn, Beck said. He said insurance to cover the pump would be $500 a year.

He said regardless of the county’s decision the ambulance fleet would need replaced.

Commissioners had issues, questions, and reservations about the potential switch. Commissioner Larry Wilson said he had read reviews on vehicles that were propane powered on the internet. He said in one instance a propane engine had to be completely rebuilt within 100,000 miles.

Wilson was also concerned about fuel availability. He asked Beck what would happen if the truck had to go long distances and ran out of propane downstate.

“You would have to pay an arm and a leg,” he said.

Beck said the vehicles ran on both gasoline and propane, and could simply be filled with gasoline for the drive.

Ultimately Wilson said he was against propane. He said he believed any new ambulances should run on diesel because it’s been proven over the years to be an efficient fuel. He also said the county’s mechanics know how to work on those engines.

Commissioner Mark Grantner said he would be in favor of propane, referencing potential wars that could cause a shortage of fossil fuels in the United States. He said the county was less dependent on foreign sources for propane or natural gas.

That being said, he also agreed with other commissioners who believed the county vehicle maintenance personnel should be asked whether they would need new certification to work on propane.

Wilson cast a motion to table the decision on the bid until the first December meeting. He was seconded by Commissioner Lee Christenbe

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