This past weekend, a temporary shortage of ambulances caused Emergency Medical Services to use a rapid response unit, or a vehicle not designed to transport patients, for a 12-hour shift.
KHON2 learned when there are shortages, emergency medical services contacts a third party to make sure there isn’t a disruption in response times to emergencies.
So what led to the temporary shortage? What is the city doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Ross Sasamura, the City’s director of facility maintenance, oversees the care of a fleet of 47 ambulances. Of those 47, 20 make up the active fleet, and 27 are backups. Of those backups,17 are out of service and in the shop, mainly because of engine problems.
“The greatest challenges the fact they have a very rigorous duty cycle because the units are always on call 24 hours a day seven days a week 365 days a year they do run up a lot of mileage,” said Sasamura.
Because ambulances are driven so many miles and put under intense stress by the paramedics who operate them, the units can routinely be brought in from everything from standard oil changes to complete engine replacements. This creates the need for plenty of backups. In 2016 close to $350,000 was spent on repairs alone.
Brandon Elefante, the city council member who chairs the public safety committee, was asked if he thought the number of ambulances in the shop was cause for concern. “Not at all. We have 20 that are in service it’s not impacting our active fleet to my knowledge. I feel that we are doing our best in terms of serving the city and County of Honolulu.”
But according to Sasamura, the City is currently looking for a new mechanic to add to their EMS maintenance team. “Our mechanics are actually on recruitment right now. So we do post for openings that we have. We try to recruit people that don’t only have the right qualifications and skills, but have the ability to stay with us for quite some time so that we can do a lot of the work that we need to do.”
Usually age is the determining factor for the city to retire an ambulance. Mileage can also be a factor. Generally ambulances are taken out of service when they are 10 years old.